Diving Into Research

May 19, 2016

OWA_1Growing up, Garrison Stevens always had an interest in engineering, and when she began looking at colleges, she knew she wanted to find a school with a strong track record in engineering research. Another consideration important to Garrison was having an opportunity to swim competitively at a Division I school. Clemson University allowed Garrison the opportunity to pursue her goals in both academics and athletics, and also gave her the small town family atmosphere that she was seeking.

Garrison competed for three years as a member of the Women’s Swimming and Diving team, and was the team Captain during the final season of the program. Garrison was involved in various activities during her undergraduate experience. She was an undergraduate teaching assistant (UTA) for General Engineering, she became a mentor in the athletic department and served as a team leader with Clemson Engineers Without Borders that led her to Kpondeh Town Liberia to work in 2012. Garrison received President Clement’s Outstanding Women’s Graduate Student Award in 2014 and currently coaches swimming for the Clemson Aquatic Team.

After the Clemson swimming program ended in 2012, she decided to begin work on a combined BS/MS degree and ranked first in her class in December. She was very interested in research when she arrived at Clemson, but was somewhat limited in research opportunities with her commitment to swimming. When that experience concluded, she approached Dr. Sez Atamturktur about the possibility of beginning research. Garrison stated “I knew that I ultimately wanted a career where I could be challenged with new problems all the time rather than falling into a routine completing the same designs again and again. Research would give me an opportunity to have the career that I had dreamed of. Thinking more about it I realized that being a professor would allow me to stay involved with this research but also work with students and help them find what they are passionate about. The mentoring and student relationships that I have been able to be a part of with my Clemson experience is something I’m really passionate about and having a career where I can continue those sorts of activities is important to me. After deciding that Ph.D was the right path for me I knew that I wanted to work with Dr. Atamturktur, she was my inspiration! I was awarded a GAANN Fellowship through our department. My first summer as a graduate student I went to Los Alamos National Lab as a Dynamics Summer School student and that is where I really fell in love with the research environment at the lab and the incredible scientist and engineers they have to work with. I knew that was where I wanted my next move to be. Luckily, Chuck Farrar, Director of the Engineering Institute at LANL and who runs the LADSS program, helped me to continue working at the lab and became a great mentor. This opportunity ultimately turned into a project for my postdoctoral fellowship.”

All of Garrison’s efforts will culminate in August when she graduates with her Ph.D from the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering. Her research emphasis has been on model validation and uncertainty quantification techniques with a specific focus on partitioned models of coupled systems (i.e. multi-component –scale, -physics). Rapid advancements in parallel computing over the last two decades have enabled simulations of complex, coupled systems through partitioning. In partitioned analysis, independently developed constituent models communicate, representing dependencies between multiple physical phenomena that take place in the full system. However, problems arise if a constituent model cannot be built–a challenge that is prevalent for highly complex systems in extreme operational conditions that push the limits of our understanding of underlying physical behavior.

Garrison has been contributing to this field through the development of a statistical tool capable of unearthing the coupled physical relationships that were neglected or unknown during model development. Her dissertation research delivers an entirely new statistical analysis procedure achieving the capability to infer physical relationships of coupled systems from available integral-effect experimental measurements. The impacts of this research are far-reaching. Her new approach will (i) increase the amount of information gained from experiments when calibrating our models, (ii) yield empirical constituent models describing relationships between systems of different physics and scales that were previously unknown and, (iii) produce models with significantly improved predictive capabilities. Garrison is implementing her methods with multi-scale plasticity models, developed to simulate the behavior of highly anisotropic materials under extreme loadings, such as the zirconium cladding of nuclear reactors. As such, her research has the potential to accelerate the current development of mechanistic models to elucidate the safety and affordability of existing and next generation nuclear reactors and fuels.

During her time at Clemson, Garrison has had the opportunity to collaborate with national laboratories on several research projects. She first joined Los Alamos National Laboratory as a Los Alamos Dynamics Summer School (LADSS) student in 2013. Through LADSS she traveled to Chonbuk National University in South Korea with a collaborative LANL-Korea project modeling elastic Rayleigh-Lamb waves to include quantitative measures of uncertainty in the characterization of damage in thin-walled structures such as pipes and aircraft composites. She returned to the Engineering Institute at LANL in 2015 as a LADSS mentor and graduate research assistant, leading the analysis of large seismic and acoustic data sets to develop a data-driven model for event detection within a robustness framework to assess the vulnerability of predictions to uncertainty in the data. Upon graduation Garrison will be returning to LANL as a postdoctoral research associate working to model the morphology of graphene as an ultra-thin membrane to guide the design of new microfluidic channels.