By Milani Chatterji-Len

Over the past eight weeks, I have had the amazing opportunity to work at Imperial College of London in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. As the program comes to a close, I am working to wrap up my project on flood forecasting using water level sensors. I am lucky to have had a breadth of experiences here, from theoretical to experimental to field work.

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Acoustic and LIDAR sensors used to measure water levels in the hydraulics lab and in the field.

Most of my project up to this point has involved constructing a theoretical model in MATLAB that allows users to input river geometries and model waves. Then, those waves can be converted to simulated sensor measurements like ones that would come from sensors in the field. In the last segment of the model, the simulated sensor readings are input and flow rate over time is output. This allows me to compare the real and simulated flow rate in order to improve the accuracy and precision of the model.

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An assembled acoustic sensor, used to measure water levels over time.

A few weeks ago, I joined my group on a field trip to rivers around London to install sensors that members of my lab had built. We installed multiple at each location to test data collection capacity and robustness of the sensors. Although I did not get to travel abroad, many members of my group also traveled outside of the country to install sensors and work with local communities who can collect the sensor data. For example, a postdoc in my lab traveled to Tanzania to install sensors on a bridge with the local water managers. Similarly, the PhD student with whom I am working traveled to Somaliland to install sensors in a well, with the help and consent of the community there.

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Collecting data with three sensors suspended above a long flume tank used for hydraulics experiments.

Working with sensors in field conditions is extremely helpful to test whether they will hold up in field conditions. However, for my experiment, I need to test how my model interacts with data collected in a well-controlled environment.

To do so, we collected data in the hydraulics laboratory inside our building at Imperial this week. My labmates and I suspended three sensors over a flume tank and used a wave generator to simulate waves propagating down a river reach. In the last few days of my IROP here, I will get the chance to incorporate the data collected into my model. This will be a great way to merge the theoretical work that I have been doing with experimental research.

This summer, MIT CEE undergraduates Abby Harvey and Milani Chatterji-Len are working in research labs at the Imperial College of London as part of the MIT International Research Opportunities Program (IROP).