Arson Selected for National Science Foundation’s BRITE Award


Associate Professor Chloé Arson has been selected for a 2021 BRITE Award from the National Science Foundation, providing funding that will allow her to take her research in a new direction. 

BRITE—which stands for Boosting Research Ideas for Transformative and Equitable Advances in Engineering—aims to create opportunities for experienced faculty to advance scientific discoveries and new research. 

Arson’s proposal was accepted as part of the BRITE Pivot Track. One of four tracks within the initiative, the Pivot Track enables researchers to adapt to the fast-moving pace of research and create new knowledge in their field by infusing new concepts from a different discipline or sub-field.

For Arson, this means incorporating artificial intelligence into her geosystems engineering research.

“This award will give me a fantastic opportunity to take time to catch up with new developments in computational mechanics and to integrate what I have learned in multi-scale modeling over the last decade with the latest algorithms used in deep learning,” Arson said. 

With the award, Arson aims to capture the persistence in time of features that are described in space and to better understand how the components that make up a heterogenous material evolve towards stable or instable microstructures exhibiting measurable properties. 

“I am also excited to a start new collaboration with an expert in AI and geomechanics, Professor Steve Sun from Columbia University, and to explore innovative ideas to transform upscaling methods,” Arson said. 

Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, Arson will receive $525,070 over three years for her proposal, “Micro-Macro Modeling of Reactive Flow and Rock Weathering Enhanced by Artificial Intelligence.”

Arson explained that the idea for her proposal is to use artificial intelligence to identify the scales needed to break down a composite material. Composite materials are those made up of more than one thing, like rocks composed of different minerals, or polycrystals made of crystals of different orientations. One of Arson’s targeted engineering applications is enhancement of safety and sustainability of long-term underground geological storage facilities, which are built in chemically reactive rocks.

The use of artificial intelligence in computational geomechanics is still in its infancy. Arson hopes to make meaningful advances in applied mechanics, including the modeling of open thermodynamic systems, the development of a new class of adaptive micro-macro models and applications over a wide range of spatiotemporal scales.

“I strongly believe that if this research is successful, it can open new avenues for how we do multi-scale modeling, not only for rocks but for other materials and for disciplines other than civil engineering,” Arson said. 

For example, understanding chemical weathering processes in the bedrock will play a central role in understanding nutrient supply, landslide hazards, and the global carbon cycle. Highlighting hidden correlations between topological features and phenomena will also advance the fundamental understanding of the behavior of solid and soft matter, Arson said. 

Over the last few years, Arson has observed that more of her engineering students are interested in incorporating computer science and machine learning into their work. Intrigued by these emerging fields, Arson began learning more about coding and computer science in her spare time. In 2020, she took courses in machine learning and assembled the proposal for the BRITE research project.

The proposal incorporates another component of great importance to Arson: diversity and inclusion. Dovetailing with her role as chair of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, the BRITE Award will allow Arson to create multi-semester undergraduate research opportunities and international research experiences; develop a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) seminar series; and co-design innovative inclusion metrics in engineering.

“I was delighted to see that the NSF made it a requirement to develop a diversity plan for this grant. I have been working on several ideas to integrate DEI training and awareness on campus and in the profession, and this grant gives me support to implement some of these ideas,” Arson said. “I hope that the visibility gained by the research and education work that we do will contribute to a bold, creative and inclusive culture at Georgia Tech and beyond.”