Huidi Ji

Graduation Year: 2004

Degree at Duke: Bachelor of Science

Major/Program: Computer Engineering

A first impression of the soft-spoken Huidi Ji might not immediately reveal the intellectual tenacity of this professional problem solver. Ji is drawn to complicated problems that can only be solved through patient application of complex calculations.

Given Ji’s heritage as a native of Shanghai, China, it seems fitting that after completing her doctorate in computational mechanics at Duke University, she chose a career as a developer at a company named ABAQUS where she creates "problem-solver" programs. The Chinese, after all, invented the abacus, dubbed the world’s first calculating machine, as early as 3,000 years B.C.

Ji is now part way through her first year of a two-year developer-training program at ABAQUS headquarters in Providence, RI. ABAQUS develops advanced finite element analysis software products used by many major corporations across all engineering disciplines as part of their design process. Its major customers include Boeing, BMW and Department of Energy national laboratories.

Ji will spend a full year doing technical support for ABAQUS product users, a task that gives her real world insight into how the company’s various programs are used and what problems clients typically encounter. As a developer in training, Ji also works with senior developers on various technical issues and creates answers for ABAQUS online support system for all users to access.

As part of the process, she gets to indulge her curiosity by delving into the code for the different software products. She says this helps her better understand what algorithms are in play in solving a problem. In year two of her training, Ji will get involved in quality assurance for the software programs, and by year three she will be a full fledged developer.

ABAQUS’ finite element analysis software can be applied to problems ranging from simulating car crashes and damage to crash-test dummies, to calculating the dynamic load from waves and wind on offshore structures, to evaluating the strength of biological tissues.

For Ji, this is a natural extension of her doctoral thesis work at Duke applying FEA to better understand the swelling/collapsing behavior of stimulus responsive hydrogels—a "smart" material composed of macromolecular polymer networks in a solvent, and designed for specific properties. Hydrogels are used in a wide range of biomedical applications from device coatings, to drug delivery, to tissue engineering.

Ji decided to come to Duke for her doctorate degree specifically to study with civil engineering assistant professor John Dolbow, who specializes in computational mechanics. "My interest in computational mechanics grew out of my Master’s work in structural engineering and I wanted to pursue the programming aspect," said Ji, who has a B.S.E. in naval architecture and a M.S. in structural engineering from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China.

"I had done very little programming before coming to Duke and really enjoyed learning how to apply C ++," Ji said. Dolbow’s research team doesn’t use off the shelf computational programs, and focuses on developing new computational methods.

Originally published Spring 2005