Learning global-scale modelling in a castle in Europe

Camila Ludovique – personal archive.

By Camila Ludovique, research assistant CAPES/IIASA Sandwich Doctorate

I come from Brazil, more specifically from the Energy Planning Program of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, that postcard city that most of you may have already seen in pictures, with gorgeous mountains beside the ocean, the sunsets…

But, on the ground we have many problems, as do all the major cities in the developing world, including a high increase in the population, about 11 % in the last decade, who require transport services work, housing, leisure and happiness.

However, higher than the increase in Rio’s population was the increase in its automobile fleet, around 110%, to supply the demand for transport in the city. The result: immobility, traffic jam, environment degradation and loss of quality of life. Then, one day I realized: something needs to be done to transform the business-as-usual scenario!

I started to wonder, how can we develop a society that is more sustainable? How can the transport passenger sector play its role in the decarbonization of economy? Moreover, how can we answer these questions?

By building mathematical models, which try to simulate the real dynamic of full economies, to assess different strategies towards a low-carbon transport system. In this way, we can try to help politicians to understand the emissions problem in a quantitative framework. We can build a dialogue, supported by numbers and evidence on the effectiveness of different policies, measures, and actions to reduce CO2 emissions from the transport sector.

Articulating this complex issue in the context of mathematical language allows us to expand the boundaries of our mental models and ideas, define them and generate scenarios to figure out what that means in practice. The models will not  give us the answer – all models are wrong – but they will give us insights that improve our mental models and the mental models of all the people who need to be involved in order for change to happen, so that people are empowered with effective policies with good leverage to go out there and make a difference. This is what makes some models useful.

And that is why IIASA appears in my life…

Choosing IIASA

Here at IIASA we have researchers and expertise from all around the world, allowing us to develop mathematical models to transform science into actions and to achieve better levels of sustainability in our world.

Being a little bit more technical, there are many examples of how and where emissions from transport have been accounted for through modelling approaches, but, roughly, we can say that there are main two types of models – the top-down and the bottom-up approach.

The bottom-up approach builds the model through more desegregated data. This means, for example, that you can differentiate the emissions pattern between the weeks and the weekends, so you can have a better understanding of the behavior and activities of human beings inside your model, which leads to more realistic outcomes.

The top-down approach uses more aggregated levels of indicators, such as the average distance in kilometers traveled per capita of a country in a year, known as PKT in the transport sector. This is just one value to represent the whole population, which doesn’t allow us to see very detailed patterns of human activity, but it allows us to see much further, around the whole globe, and compare how each region may evolve. On the other hand, the bottom-up approach cannot see a big region without losing the capabilities of a desegregated model.

I used to say that one is myopic and the other has astigmatism. How can we solve this dilemma?

Working with both… and that is why IIASA benefits me

The institute has an important and famous top-down model, the Model for Energy Supply Strategy Alternatives and their General Environmental Impact, better known as MESSAGE. It which provides core inputs for major international assessments, such as the IPCC, and here I am – in this castle in Europe, learning how to model in a global scale.

Besides that, I am also developing a bottom-up model that applies big data to assess the urban passenger emissions in Rio de Janeiro, creating a tool that seeks to answer how we can achieve the transition paths to reduce the carbon footprint of the transport sector, and how much it will cost. This will help my country develop strategies towards sustainable mobility and a better quality of life for Brazilians who live in Rio de Janeiro, or those who travel to that wonderful city.

Why apply for the IIASA doctorate program?

IIASA is not in Vienna itself, it is in Laxenburg, a small village south of Vienna, which means if you want to live in the city, you must travel. But, if that is not a problem for you, I really would recommend IIASA for you!

IIASA has good infrastructure, and there are great people from all over the world, all friendly. There are many activities in the summer time, that even offer free beer! There is also the mountain club, the music club, a great park to run in, or walk in, which is full of nature. For sure, it is a good place to live and finalize your long life of studies. Come to make part of this history.

Applications for the 2019 IIASA-CAPES Doctorate Sandwich Program and Postdoctoral Fellowship Program opened on 1 September 2018 and will run until 15 October 2018. Candidates have to apply to both CAPES (on the CAPES website) and IIASA. Successful applicants will be informed of the selection results by mid-December 2018. Selected candidates are expected to take up their position at IIASA between March and October 2019.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

 

My experience as a postdoc at IIASA

Julian Hunt – personal archive.

Julian Hunt is a postdoc at IIASA and part of the Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education (CAPES) scheme. 

My postdoctoral research consists of looking at the world potential and costs of storing energy and water with large-scale pumped-storage plants. This consists of developing computational models using world topographical and hydrological data to develop all possible projects in the world. The results from my research could then be used by countries to analyze the viability of building seasonal pumped-storage for short, medium, and long-term energy storage needs and to improve the water management of the country.

I first heard about IIASA at the Vienna Energy Forum in 2010, when I was doing an internship at UNIDO. I got the impression that IIASA was a major contributor to the science that supports major claims by the UN. This led me to start reading about IIASA’s projects and follow its research. I did not think twice when I received an invitation to apply for the IIASA-CAPES fellowship, which gave me a chance to join the institute and develop my own high impact research. One thing that might stop Brazilian people from applying for this scholarship is because the native language in Austria is German. However, IIASA’s working language is English and in Vienna most people speak English.

IIASA focuses on applied and high impact research at a global scale. Prior to my experience at IIASA, I used to develop new technologies looking only at one or a few cases studies. This limited the research to a small readership, which would think that the technology could only be implemented in one location. With the experience I had at IIASA, I learned to combine my technological expertise with computer modelling and Geographic Information System in most of my work. This considerably increased the readership and impact of my research, and citations of my papers.

Working at IIASA you can focus only on your research. Normally when doing research at universities you might have to give lectures and supervise students. This reduces the important focus on research. At IIASA the main activities are to research, publish articles and scientific reports, present your work at conferences, collaborate with other research institutes, develop projects and so on. The main activities of a researcher. Similarly to universities, there is always finger food (free lunch) available, but the quality is much better.

IIASA is located close to Vienna, which is a beautiful, lively, and affordable and city. Vienna was voted the best city to live in the world and I agree with this. Another important aspect is the social life. IIASA has a very active social life, which includes regular events and parties, different societies (music club, running club), an active Staff Association (STAC) and the possibility of making friends from around the world. Becoming IIASA alumni will also open doors for your future. For example, the Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP), brings around 50 of the best researchers in the world every year to IIASA. This results in a large network of IIASA alumni researchers.

I highly recommend that researchers, fluent in English, who want to give a huge boost to their research career, learn a lot of valuable methodologies, solve holistic and complex problems, make good friends, and increase their network should apply for a research position at IIASA.


Applications for the 2019 IIASA-CAPES Doctorate Sandwich Program and Postdoctoral Fellowship Program opened on 1 September 2018 and will run until 15 October 2018. Candidates have to apply to both CAPES (on the CAPES website) and IIASA. Successful applicants will be informed of the selection results by mid-December 2018. Selected candidates are expected to take up their position at IIASA between March and October 2019.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Interview: A great opportunity for Brazilian PhD students and postdocs

Rafael Morais

Rafael Morais is a recent participant in the IIASA-CAPES Doctorate Sandwich Program, he spent nine months at IIASA working in the Energy program.

In 2016, the Brazilian Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education (CAPES) partnered with IIASA on a new initiative offering support to doctoral and postdoctoral researchers interested in collaborating with established IIASA researchers. As part of this initiative, IIASA and CAPES annually offer up to three fellowships for Brazilian PhD students to spend three to twelve months at IIASA as part of the joint IIASA-CAPES Doctorate Sandwich Program, as well as up to four postdoc fellowships that enable Brazilian researchers to work at IIASA for up to 24 months.

Rafael Morais, a PhD candidate at the Energy Planning Program of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, was part of the first group of Brazilian PhD students funded by CAPES to participate in this program. He spent nine months with the Energy Program at IIASA in 2017. We recently caught up with him and asked him about his research and what the fellowship has meant to him:

What is your PhD research about?

My research involves modeling the contribution of renewable energy sources in electric systems. My doctorate thesis includes a case study on Brazil, where we have large potential for wind and solar power generation in various regions. My main objective is to investigate how total costs develop considering the number of wind and solar plants in the Brazilian electricity system.

Why did you choose IIASA for your doctorate program (over other places)?

I chose IIASA because it is a very reputable think tank for energy and model development. People are very capable and well prepared. They have been working on energy systems modeling for many years, and their experience motivated my decision to come to IIASA. I talked with some people that were at IIASA before me and they were all very grateful for the experience. Another important factor was that it is an international institute, where one can have contact with people from many different countries, and the main language is English.

Rafael Morais

How did your participation in the program benefit you?

I had the opportunity to get into contact with diverse approaches to my research questions, thus enriching my thesis. Unlike my home institution, IIASA does not have only energy experts, but also computer scientists, mathematicians, and physics experts, all working in the same group, and all contributing to a great modeling team. Being here was an excellent opportunity to collaborate with them. As my first experience abroad, it was also a chance for me to grow and develop other skills, both on a professional and a personal level.

Would you recommend that people apply for the IIASA-CAPES doctorate program?

Yes, I would definitely recommend it! IIASA is a very nice place to work. People really care about a harmonious work environment, and IIASA staff are always available to help you with any issue. Apart from that, the people that I worked with during my time here are very knowledgeable and kind. In short, it was a great experience being at IIASA for nine months during my PhD.

Applications for the 2019 IIASA-CAPES Doctorate Sandwich Program and Postdoctoral Fellowship Program opened on 1 September 2018 and will run until 15 October 2018. Candidates have to apply to both CAPES (on the CAPES website) and IIASA. Successful applicants will be informed of the selection results by mid-December 2018. Selected candidates are expected to take up their position at IIASA between March and October 2019.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.