Taking Advantage of a Supportive Environment at Every Turn

7/13 Pratt School of Engineering

PhD student Iran Hernandez Imbert is helping improve geothermal technology through a series of national and international fellowships

Four people stand in front of a glass door with plaques and the American flag
Taking Advantage of a Supportive Environment at Every Turn

When Iran Hernandez Imbert found out she’d been accepted into Duke Engineering’s PhD program in 2021, she had mixed feelings.  She definitely wanted to go to Duke—the laboratory of John Dolbow, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, was her top choice for graduate school—but she’d already won a Fulbright scholarship to study at the Coventry University for the coming year.

Funded by the U.S. government, the Fulbright program is the nation’s flagship international educational exchange program and is designed to increase mutual understanding between nations. It’s one of the most prestigious scholarships a student can receive and an opportunity that Hernandez Imbert simply couldn’t pass up.

“Between Duke working with me to accommodate my scholarship and helping me secure a fellowship through the Department of Energy, I feel very supported.”

iran hernandez imbert

She needn’t have worried, though, as Duke was happy to defer her acceptance for a year to the fall of 2022.

“Between Duke working with me to accommodate my scholarship and helping me secure a fellowship through the Department of Energy, I feel very supported,” said Hernandez Imbert, who was originally born in Mexico and bears the traditional two surnames of her parents. “It’s been a great experience so far.”

A woman stands on a sightseeing boat with old London bridges in the backgroundThe fellowship Hernandez Imbert is referring to is a Department of Energy (DOE) Computational Science Graduate Fellowship, which will support her graduate work for the next four years. But before she starts her second year at Duke, she’s travelling to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for a summer internship. At the DOE user facility, she’ll be helping conduct benchmarking tests for its new modeling software program  that is similar to the one her Duke lab uses, called MOOSE.

“Ever since learning to drive stick in high school, I’ve loved the engineering side of cars, but I also wanted to focus on sustainability. That’s a big reason why I chose to come to Duke.”

iran hernandez imbert

Created by Idaho National Laboratory, MOOSE (Multiphysics Object Oriented Simulation Environment) is an object-oriented C++ finite element framework for the development of tightly coupled multiphysics solvers. Put another way, it’s a software simulation system that models systems with multiple physical phenomena involved.

In the Dolbow laboratory at Duke, Hernandez Imbert will be using the software to model fracture networks for enhanced geothermal systems. These are large power plants that push water deep into the earth to heat it before bringing it back to the surface and using that heat to generate electricity. Her focus in the Dolbow lab will be to find better pathways for the water to travel through to make the most heat available to the plant.

A group of people with nametags pose for a pictureAs an undergraduate at Mercer University, Hernandez Imbert focused more on traditional mechanical engineering research and working with cars. That trend continued at Coventry University, where her scholarship was funded by the university in partnership with the Fulbright program and Aston Martin. There, Hernandez Imbert focused on modeling a microgas turbine that runs on hydrogen to aid evolving infrastructure for electric vehicle charging stations.

“Ever since learning to drive stick in high school, I’ve loved the engineering side of cars, but I also wanted to focus on sustainability,” said Hernandez Imbert. “That’s a big reason why I chose to come to Duke.”

The experience she gained in creating computer models is now helping her transition to the more complex MOOSE system and more difficult problems involving large geothermal processes. But between her summer internship and the support she’s found at Duke, she’s confident that she can make the leap.

“I didn’t have a lot of computational modeling experience before starting at Duke last year,” said Hernandez Imbert. “Getting up to speed has been a challenge, but it’s one I’ve enjoyed tackling.”