Visualizing where food, water and energy meet

By GREGORY ZELLER //

Nada, meet NASA.

That’s Dr. Nada Anid, thank you, dean of the New York Institute of Technology’s School of Engineering and Computing Sciences, and her plans for NASA could take Long Island innovation to the final frontier.

Anid was in Washington on Wednesday for the National Council for Science and the Environment’s 16th annual conference on Science, Policy and the Environment. Dubbed the “Food-Energy-Water Nexus,” the Mensa-level networker united 1,200 leaders in science, technology, government, business and education in an environment rich with research partnerships and funding opportunities.

Nada Anid

Nada Anid

Among them: a $50 million solicitation by the National Science Foundation for “innovations at the nexus of food, energy and water systems.” Anid is hungry for a slice of that pie, the first of multiple ideas she has to spur Long Island’s scientific – and most definitely economic – growth by partnering NYIT with NASA.

Not just NASA, in this case, but also the University of Colorado, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey. The idea: a joint project combining satellite imaging and environmental monitoring.

Based on talks at the NCSE conference, the five institutions are planning “brainstorming sessions” in preparation for the NSF’s March deadline for innovation proposals, according to Anid.

While their hypothetical pitch is in the earliest stages, she noted, it’s a textbook example of the sort of big-brain, big-opportunity elbow-rubbing encouraged by the NCSE event.

“This conference is attended by stakeholders from all the major agencies,” Anid told Innovate LI. “It’s very important to get out and connect with these stakeholders at these conferences, and see what we can bring back to Long Island.”

NASA, for example.

The dean – who was asked by conference organizers to moderate a symposium on advances in the protection of food, energy and water systems, including big-data security and Internet of Things integration – took full advantage of the invite. Anid was especially inspired by a NASA display showcasing the space agency’s latest high-definition visualization technologies.

Seeing parallels between the tech and the cutting-edge video wall recently installed at the Entrepreneurship Technology Innovation Center on NYIT’s Old Westbury campus, the dean quickly conceived of a NASA-infused lecture series centered around the center’s state-of-the-art video wall – and even interested several NASA scientists in the idea.

“Instead of showing nonsense on the video wall, we could actually show science – and have a public lecture around it,” Anid said. “NASA would give us access to their data, but of course the real draw would be bringing a (NASA) scientist to the school once every three months or so.”

The idea is only preliminary – the dean literally thought it up on the spot, watching images of exploding solar flares and other phenomena on NASA’s video wall – but the space agency researchers she spoke to “were very excited when I talked to them,” and encouraged Anid to bring it up with NASA administrators, which she planned to do before conference’s end.

Building a lecture series around the ETIC’s video wall represents a fundamental scientific requirement, by Anid’s thinking: New machines and next-gen technologies are great, but unless they advance science, they’re just things. It’s a point she planned to stress during her symposium, which was scheduled to involve a panel of food/energy/water system experts including Vatsal Bhatt, senior energy policy advisor at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“Before we build a model that nobody has any use for, we have to ask: Who is the user? What data do they need? At what frequency?” Anid said. “In the age of Big Data, that’s how we need to think: What’s the best way to combine data from many sources, who’s using it and how do we extract the answers?”

Combining disciplines to create new models is also the thinking behind the satellite imaging/environmental monitoring concept NYIT is developing with the University of Colorado, NASA and the rest – a proposal that could have some very strong economic impacts, according to Anid, who recognizes inherent engineering and IoT opportunities.

“This is applicable to sampling groundwater on Long Island, or drinking water around New York City,” Anid said. “It could help create proper forecasting. And it could go in a lot of different directions in collaboration with NOAA and the USGS, by adding geographic information, radar and other visual data.”

The economic beauty of a proposal like that, she noted, is not only in the creation of the science but in the ways that science can advance other industries.

“This requires building expertise, systems engineering, all of that,” the dean said. “And then it can enable planners and managers by giving them more sophisticated tools.

“You just have to be creative,” Anid added. “You constantly have to be thinking outside the box.”