Scholar, a professor of mechanical engineering, Bryony DuPont…”being a professor is the best job in the world!”
Tell us about your research?
My research is at the intersection of artificial intelligence and sustainability. We create and apply novel computational algorithms – optimization, neural networks, and others – to relevant, complex challenges, like renewable energy systems and the design and manufacture of sustainable consumer products.
What’s the best thing about being an academic researcher?
There isn’t anything I don’t absolutely love about my job – I get to drive the direction of cutting-edge research through hiring the best and brightest graduate students, and working with them to write papers and get new projects funded that have the potential for global impact. I get to teach both undergraduate and graduate mechanical engineering students about the big design challenges that they’ll need to alleviate in their lifetimes, from figuring out how our energy systems will accommodate growth in electricity demand, to how to design products with environmental impact in mind, to fun things like determining what Iron Man’s suit should be made of (fun fact: it’s definitely not iron!). I also have the opportunity for all sorts of outreach, where my focus is working with middle- and high-school-aged girls to encourage them to pursue STEM education.
What book(s) are you reading?
Right now, I’m reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, which, I admit, is due entirely to my utter obsession with the recent Broadway Musical, Hamilton. I generally get the chance to read books when I’m traveling – which happens rather frequently – and my favorites are historical and science fiction. The Martian is a recent favorite.
What style are you comfortable in?
I feel comfortable in just about anything, as long as the fit is right. My professional style is a bit odd – my field is predominantly male, so I have some great tailored button-downs and leather oxfords that get a lot of use; in contrast, I have an extensive collection of A-line sleeveless mod-style dresses.
I’ve probably confused everyone I work with!
To be honest, there aren’t many young, female engineering professors, so I just wear things that I really like and feel comfortable in while lecturing.
Most favourite item in your wardrobe
I have a pair of navy suit pants that fit like a dream and are comfortable enough to do gymnastics in – I have to stop myself from sleeping in them. I’ve also recently invested in some really high-quality 3” pumps that are so perfect; I could run laps in them. I often do, in fact, between my office and my student labs!
Favourite fashion brands?
When I was in grad school, the shortest path to campus took me through a fancy shopping district, and I use to gawk at the clothes in the windows at Banana Republic and Ann Taylor and dream about finishing my PhD and teaching in those clothes. That’s exactly what I do now most of the time! I have some well-loved pieces from ModCloth and Anthropologie, as well.
I now live in a relatively small college town, so I almost exclusively shop online!
Whose style inspires you?
So this is probably a bit of a tell, but I love what some TV characters wear – Olivia Pope (Scandal) and Claire Underwood (House of Cards) are just flawless. I follow a few phenomenal fashion bloggers on Instagram too, like Mary Orton (Memorandum.com). Mostly, I am lucky enough to have brilliant female friends with excellent senses of style, and I copy what they do.
If you could ask three (academic juggernauts) for dinner…
Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and Sally Ride. As for the why, if you don’t know why those women are worthy of countless posthumous dinner parties, they’re well worth the research.
If your research were a fashion item…
A black liquid cat-eye. A result that has been optimized over many, many iterations.
What would you spend your last cash on?
Really good, fine-point black pens. Also, whisky.
What academic events or seminars will you be attending in the next 6 months?
I’m heading into busy teaching season in 2016, so my next trips are to the Sustainable Design and Manufacturing Conference, Design Computing and Cognition Conference, and ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and International Conference on Ocean, Offshore and Artic Engineering. Hopefully I head out to give some invited research talks, as well.
Windows or a Mac?
Mac for personal use, Windows for some programming languages, and many headaches whilst working between the two.
Where will be your ideal get-away spot from the academic hustle?
My mum’s farmhouse in middle-of-nowhere Ohio, and camping on Cross Lake near my hometown in Maine. Both are quiet, cold, isolated, and the night sky has more stars than you can count.
Who are you when you are not doing research or teaching?
I’m a classically-trained vocalist and an avid baker. I’m also a decidedly slow but dedicated runner.
People are always surprised that…
I’m a woman. My first name is unusual and most mechanical engineers are men!
If you were not an academic researcher, what would you be?
I’d like to think I’d be a product designer, specializing in CAD and simulation. I’d most likely be really upset, though – I think being a professor is the best job in the world.
Feature photo by Javier Calvo