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Graduate Spotlight


Zane Schemmer: Graduate Spotlight

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Zane Schemmer: Graduate Spotlight

Hometown: Park City, Utah

Who is your advisor/PI?: Josephine Carstensen

Degree Program: SM/PhD

Anticipated Graduation Year: 2027

How did you first become interested in Civil and Environmental Engineering?
I’ve been passionate about civil and environmental engineering for as long as I can remember. At a young
age, I was inspired by the fact that humanity builds structures that last generations. We can look at
buildings and bridges constructed hundreds of years ago and marvel at how people came together to
create something much larger than themselves. The built environment is fundamental to how societies are shaped and how communities interact with each other. I think it’s a fascinating privilege to be a part of this field.

What is your area of research?
My area of research is topology optimization of structures. Specifically, I am using a mixed-integer linear
program to minimize the embodied carbon of structural designs. The algorithm considers where users are geographically located to determine what materials should be used to satisfy design loads and reduce the carbon footprint. Additionally, the program allows users to specify manufacturability constraints. This includes limiting the number of structural members protruding from a node and ensuring the angle of separation between members is constructible. Users can also specify how they want forces to flow through a design. This is useful for creating tensegrity structures.

Why did you choose this research focus? Was there something that inspired you or did you
always have this interest from a young age?

I have been interested in structural engineering from a young age. However, my passion for topology optimization is relatively new. As an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, I was part of a concrete
metamaterials research project. One day in the lab, I was assigned to build formwork for a new beam
designed using topology optimization. The design differed from anything I had seen before and used
substantially less concrete. When this new beam was tested and performed the same as a traditional
beam, I was amazed! How could it be so much more efficient? I have been inspired by the results of
topology optimization ever since.

What are your hobbies or interests outside of MIT?
I love spending time outdoors. I particularly enjoy golfing, hiking, skiing, and iPhone photography. Currently, I am the President of MIT Club Golf. The longest hike I’ve done in a single day is Kings Peak in Utah. It was a 29-mile round-trip journey with a stunning view from 13,500 feet above sea level. Growing up in Park City, I skied alongside Olympic gold medalists during the winter months.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself!
Over the pandemic, I attempted to build a homemade high-voltage transformer and an ion thruster.