Before interning with senior scientist Charles Xie this summer, Maya Haigis had no idea how many solar panel manufacturers there are—“There’s a ton!”
A data science major at the University of Rochester, Maya put her analytic skills to work at the Concord Consortium collecting data on solar panels (dimensions, weight, maximum wattage, etc.) and designed a panda solar power plant with Energy3D, an engineering design and simulation tool for renewable energy and energy efficiency. She used Energy3D to create a power plant in the shape of a bald eagle, too.
“Charles heard about the giant panda power plant in Datong, China, in the news, and asked me to replicate it in Energy3D.” Maya says, “It was a good introduction to the features of Energy3D. Charles suggested I do something relevant to the U.S.—like our own national symbol! It was fun imagining flying across the country and seeing a giant bald eagle out of the window instead of the generic rectangles or circles of traditional solar farms.”
She also worked with the Energy3D team modeling local schools and other community buildings for the Solarize Your World curriculum they are designing.
“Maya is a real genius in 3D modeling,” said Charles. “I didn’t expect her to come up with sophisticated 3D structures within a couple of hours with a piece of software that she had never used before. But she did it elegantly. It is remarkable that she has created scores of highly accurate 3D models for school buildings with incredible details.”
Bald eagle solar power in Energy3D (left) and close-up of bald eagle (right).
As a sophomore, Maya is currently on the same path as computer science students, but her curriculum path will soon diverge with a focus on data mining and database systems plus more statistics. She’s always been “a math person,“ she says, but credits her high school AP statistics teacher’s enthusiasm for data and statistics for consolidating her interest.
At the University of Rochester she’s already taken courses in Java, data structures and algorithms, discrete math, calculus, and linear algebra with differential equations. “All data is interesting,” she says, but notes sports stats are particularly fascinating. No surprise, since Maya is a student athlete who plays field hockey at the Division III school where her schedule includes practice six days a week.
She notes, “My brother and I used to have a collection of baseball cards and I would try to memorize the stats of my favorite players. It’s a bit ironic because before games, coaches always say that once you step onto the field, the statistics don’t mean anything and what matters is which team plays the hardest, but I still look through other team stats.”
Recently, Maya had a pivotal experience. She spent half a day at Pfizer working with a business analyst, who serves as a connection between scientists and programmers. “The business analyst would explain to the scientists what the data meant,” she explains. “And if the scientists wanted their data displayed in a certain way, she would talk to the programmers.” Maya can imagine filling a similar liaison role working as data scientist, though she also admits, “I’m not exactly sure what I want to do after college, but I’m looking forward to the data science courses at Rochester, and I’m excited to see what opportunities will arise with big data!”