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Through MIT Summer Research Program, Undergraduate Abigail Idiculla Dives into Climate & Sustainability Topics with the MCSC

Abigail Idiculla, Penn State
"I saw a real-world application of environmental science and now, I can better communicate my research to various audiences."

Abigail Idiculla, Penn State
MIT Summer Research Program

Abigail Idiculla, an undergraduate studying civil and environmental engineering at Pennsylvania State University, spent her summer with the MCSC through the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP). She worked with MCSC Impact Fellows Sydney Sroka and Glen Junor to create an app with MathWorks in MATLAB that layers together heterogenous public datasets in a user-friendly interface that is geared towards supporting decisions related to installing carbon capture. The app is being developed to integrate information on the carbon intensity of the electric grid, natural hazard risk, and social vulnerability to help the user incorporate energy grid resilience considerations into their carbon capture planning decisions. At the end of the summer, she had the chance to present her research to selected MCSC member companies, where she talked about developing an interactive map of CO2 sources, pipelines, and sinks. 

We caught up with Abigail to learn more about her summer with the MCSC.

What was a highlight of your MCSC experience?

Over the summer, I collected many fond memories: Elise Chamber’s new initiative, Summer Fun Times; the weekly MCSC UROP teach-in; my presentation to MathWorks and Cargill; and most importantly, the brilliant, kind people that ensure the Consortium’s success. Elise organized several group activities to promote bonding between Staff, Impact Fellows, UROPs, Postdocs and Research Assistants. As a team, we kayaked, ate ice cream, and visited Tatte. Aside from the social outings, we gathered weekly to learn from my fellow UROPs. Every Friday, we gobbled up pizza from Otto’s or Bertucci’s while listening to lessons ranging from machine learning to biodegradable plastics to carbon capture solvents. My “teach-in” prepared me for the climax of my MCSC experience; I presented my mapping program to two large companies. With the feedback they gave me, I will continue to work with the MCSC — specifically Sydney Sroka and Elsa Olivetti — and improve upon this project.

What is a way you were able to provide new insight and create a meaningful impact on your research team?

As a civil and environmental engineer (with almost no knowledge of the carbon capture market), I identified opportunities for improvement that others may have missed. Many of my co-workers specialize in more traditional sciences — like chemistry and physics — but I contribute additional knowledge of natural and built world interactions. For example, I wanted to include a financial calculator that might predict future costs/savings for companies looking to enter the CCS market. This calculator would integrate environmental, social, and infrastructure risks to narrow down a company’s choices for CCS retrofit.

What’s something from your summer research with the MCSC that you are excited about applying to your future academic studies and/or a future career?

A wizard in MATLAB and scientific communication, Sydney Sroka taught me game-changing programming techniques and showed me how to deliver better written and verbal presentations. Watching her talk to major companies and motivate them to join the CCS movement taught me more than any lecture hall or homework assignment. I saw a real-world application of environmental science and now, I can better communicate my research to various audiences.

The MCSC also opened many doors for me like introducing me to Dr. Mike Howland and Dr. Desiree Plata. By talking to these MCSC’s affiliated faculty and researchers and after many conversations with Impact Fellow Glen Junor, I understood the MCSC’s significance in restricting — and maybe reversing — climate change. I used to dream of discovering a new element that produced more energy than uranium (or something like that). While ideas like this still intrigue me, I realized we already have the technology to save the planet. The problem arises when trying to implement this technology. The MCSC is solving this problem by working with companies—a controversial but necessary strategy. I hope to also work with big players in the climate change market to make real change.

Any advice you’d give other students looking to dive into research more deeply, or anything else you’d like to add?

Do not get too hung up on your major or initial research topic. I took two years to declare my major, and I still don’t know if I want to specialize in civil engineering. While I recommend understanding the various majors your college has to offer, the skills you learn from classes and labs will help you learn anything you want to.
Also, do not be afraid to talk to professors — about research or life. Many professors want to help their students succeed and can point you in the right direction. This falls under the same category as asking for help. It is better to ask and learn from someone more knowledgeable than to tough it out for more than two hours. And just know that if someone criticizes you harshly or gives intensive feedback, they respect you in the highest form.
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