When Passion Decides a Pathway – A Young Professional’s Unusual Journey to Energy Management

Elayne Blancas, Al Thumann Scholarship Award Recipient

I have been fascinated with energy engineering throughout my academic journey and have partaken in this field of science through unique experiences. Upon receiving my Associate Degree in Electrical Engineering at Hostos Community College, I interned with MIT in Neuroscience and Biology. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity involved collecting autonomic responses on patients undergoing prostate removal in the Massachusetts General Hospital operating room. Our objective was to understand pain under anesthesia better. I was thrilled when we compared the human mind to a circuit board composed of electrical impulses of millions of firing neurons. However, it was a humbling experience to expand our research by closely examining the human heart to achieve the objective above. We collected ECG data from college student volunteers and analyzed their heart rate variability (HRV). I noticed that the HRV model our team was using revealed hidden nuances that were not detected by standard measures. This extraordinary discovery holds the potential to uncover hidden autonomic dynamics in various states, including stress. From this internship, I realized how energy is all around us– even in our bodies– and the more we study it, the more we can learn from it!

The most impactful research opportunity I have had was during my matriculation at Hostos. It dealt with understanding the heat dissipation in elephant ears. Heat generation is proportional to mass, and elephants weigh several tons, so elephants generate a lot of heat–about 5 kW! With no sweat glands, they should theoretically be burning up, but they are not! Nature has given them a solution in which they use the flapping of their ears as a cooling system from which we can learn a lot. Their energy dissipation is entirely sustainable, and that has given me a lot of inspiration for how we can look to nature for energy solutions.

It is beautiful that the solutions to some of the most complex problems we face are right in front of us–in nature. I believe energy is so mysterious and pure; a lifetime would not be enough to understand its full potential and power! However, the more we make an effort to understand, the more we can learn and obtain answers— not just about our bodies but the world around us. Energy is the very thing that keeps us connected and in touch with one another.

Engaging adolescents in serious discussions about accountability towards their environment and educating them on the actions needed to maintain our planet is an essential step towards positive and impactful change. I firmly believe we should welcome challenging discussions of complex issues and encourage students of all ages to brainstorm and create potential solutions. They will be inheriting these lands from us, and it is up to us to make sure that it is safe and habitable for them and future generations.

With that said, as an individual who began to dream big at a young age– I am a curious and creative person constantly in search of new opportunities to expand the boundaries of our scientific knowledge. In my free time, I contribute to developing a miniature satellite that will launch into space through NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. In addition, we are looking at ways to realize innovative ideas, such as using water as a non-traditional fuel propellant for our fuel system.

I am very grateful that I received the AEE Scholarship. To represent something that I have been consciously and unconsciously working towards for a greener world, even though my path is not a traditional clean energy job as a computer engineer, I bring a unique perspective to this industry, given my broad range of research. It was beyond humbling to see that this organization recognized that in me, and I can’t wait for what is next.