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Fall 2003
Alex Trechet


Photo of Mario Sengco"My entire life has revolved around something wet, something fluidic," says Alex Techet, assistant professor in MIT's Department of Ocean Engineering. "I started out as an aerospace/mechanical engineer but didn't really want to build planes because I had this love for the ocean," she says, explaining a fondness for boating, swimming, water polo, and scuba diving. "And then I found out about ocean engineering."

Techetís research focuses on experimental hydrodynamics, which she describes by ticking off questions: "How can we use our understanding of physics and fluids and how waves and currents impact structures in the ocean to build safer and better offshore platforms? How can we sense flow, fluid velocity, stress and turbulences in the ocean? How can we sense it around vehicles and use the knowledge of what we're sensing to control that vehicle and make it swim faster?"

Techet is addressing the latter question by teaming up with biologists to study how fish achieve their splendid propulsion. In studying biologically-inspired propulsion, Techet hopes to incorporate similar mechanisms in marine vehicles. She explains that flexible bodies allow fish to swim with great efficiency, and that fish also rely on sensors to perceive pressure. In research funded by MIT Sea Grant, Techet is exploring ways of embedding such sensors in ships, autonomous underwater vehicles, and submarines.

The sensors will first be tested in MITís recirculating water tunnel. "The idea," says Techet, "is that if we can figure out how itís going to work in the lab, it will be a lot easier for us to implement it in the vehicle."

This past spring she served as an advisor to the MIT team competing in the New England regional ROV competition (see p.3 story). Her teaching load this year includes an undergraduate class in hydrodynamics and a graduate course in design principles for ocean vehicles. "These are students who really love the ocean and want to build things to explore the ocean environment. Thatís really what drives them."

Which makes them sound a good bit like their professor. She says that on days when her surfer students arenít in lab or class, "itís probably because the waves are rolling on the Cape." She says this not with reprimand, but enthusiasm, as if acknowledging the extracurricular activities that contribute to the soul of an ocean engineer. As if she wouldnít mind hanging ten with them.

—Andrea Cohen, MIT Sea Grant

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