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Unlocking Secrets of the World's Water Resources

April 20, 2016

Obeng Kwaku Buo, an engineering science major at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) is from Ghana, and grew up in the capital city of Accra, on the Gulf of Guinea. He visited New York for the first time in 2011, to visit family in the Bronx, then headed back to Ghana to complete high school.

In the winter of 2014, Buo returned to New York, and enrolled at BMCC that fall. He started out in BMCC’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), and became acquainted with data collection through a CSTEP (Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program) scholarship.

Buo chose engineering science as a major, “because in high school I had a very good physics teacher who really encouraged me,” he says. “Someday I want to learn about the dynamics of flight and the design of airplanes, which are the product of mechanical engineering. My goal is to go into aerospace engineering.”

Buo’s focus so far, though, is much closer to Earth. In Summer 2015, he joined the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program and a research project, "The Dynamics of Water Storage Over Lake Eyre, Australia, Observed by Satellite Data" led by BMCC Engineering Professor Kibrewossen Tesfagiorgis. A focus of the project is understanding patterns of flooding, and saving lives in the process.

Understanding the world’s water resources

Buo and other students take part in Professor Tesfagiorgis’s research through funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and LSAMP. Applying data analysis and other skills, they examine the world's water resources with the goal of minimizing loss of life caused by devastating floods.

Professor Tesfagiorgis “has taught me a lot, plus he’s given me advice, support, everything I need to build my academic career,” Buo says.

One skill he has learned is how to use MATLAB, data analysis software that helps make sense of rainfall statistics provided by two NASA satellites. One of these, the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM, “gives us rainfall and precipitation data,” Buo says, while the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer, or AMSR-E, “shows microwave data sensitive to soil wetness for detecting inundation or flooding.”

Using MATLAB, he is able to take the NASA data “and make correlation graphs and image plots that show you the watershed, the time of the month and a color index that shows dryness or flooding in Lake Eyre.”

Skills for a future in engineering

Having experience with satellite data will give Buo an edge, as his major evolves and he continues his academic career beyond BMCC.

“Science interrelates with biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics,” he says. “As I move on I might be able to link the knowledge I’ve gained from learning about environmental engineering to aerospace engineering and other areas.”

Looking ahead to his bachelor’s degree, Buo has applied to several engineering schools and “I’m still waiting to hear from Columbia University and RPI [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute] in Troy, New York,” he says. Meanwhile, he is excited to have been accepted at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York, and Binghamton University, SUNY.

Practicing the art of making presentation

Outside the research lab, Buo stays busy as a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the Science Club and Math Club at BMCC. He is also a member of The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). He has attended national conferences and won First Place in the Civil, Mechanical, Environmental or Aerospace Engineering category for his research poster presentation at the October 2015 LSAMP Symposium & Research Conference held at the University of Georgia.

He was also selected as a winner of BMCC’s 2016 Undergraduate Research Symposium, and attended the Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Researchers Conference in Washington, DC in February 2016.

“Professor Kibre encouraged me to apply for the ERN travel grant, which I got, and to make a presentation at the conference,” Buo says, and though his presentation didn’t garner any winnings, he appreciates having had the experience. “You talk for ten minutes to four judges sitting at a table, and then they question you. That was hard, but it helped to have the practice of making presentations through LSAMP, and Professor Kibre encouraged me to present to my friends and family before the conference, so I did, and that helped, too. As time gets on, I’m getting better.”

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Obeng Kwaku Buo has been a member of ASAP, Phi Theta Kappa, CSTEP and LSAMP
  • Guided by Professor Kibrewossen Tesfagiorgis, he researches water storage dynamics with a goal of predicting catastrophic floods
  • He won First Place for his research poster presented at the 2015 LSAMP Symposium & Research Conference at University of Georgia

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