Odonkor’s passion for net-zero energy smart buildings earns recognition

Phil Odonkor, MAE PhD student

Phil Odonkor's clean energy research presentations netted $4,000 in prizes. Odonkor is a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Photo credit: Sarah D'Iorio.

by Rebecca Rudell

Published August 13, 2018

Philip Odonkor has always been intrigued by the idea of distilling complex thoughts into short, captivating narratives. He’s also proven that he’s highly proficient at this essential skill.

“Today, engineers are no longer confined to labs or behind computer screens. We are expected to engage with real people and problems, all in real time. The value of being able to succinctly convey thoughts and ideas in such situations cannot be emphasized enough. It is what gives us that competitive edge.”
Phil Odonkor, PhD student
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Within the past few months, Odonkor, a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who is originally from Ghana, won two competitions that play on the succinct, but impactful TED talk format.

This April, he took home $3,000 when he won first place in Transforming Our Tomorrow, a symposium sponsored by UB Sustainability in which students from universities across New York State presented their work on clean energy.

His seven-minute presentation entitled, “Making Clean Energy Smarter with Artificial Intelligence,” looked at how solar energy can be utilized more efficiently through smart sensors. Odonkor aspires to develop energy management algorithms to discover our most innate energy habits and to use this data to better manage energy assets within our homes and offices. His vision, he says, is the realization of net-zero energy smart buildings.

The month before, Odonkor took part in Three Minute Thesis (3MT), a competition hosted by the Graduate School and Blackstone LaunchPad. 3MT was founded by the University of Queensland in Australia and is now held at more than 600 universities across the globe, including UB.

He earned the $1,000 top prize for his presentation, “Is Your House Smarter Than a Mud Hut?” Odonkor has found that, unfortunately, when it comes to using energy intelligently, your home hasn’t advanced much from its ancient predecessor. Here, too, he explained how his research aims to make our homes smarter by developing better ways to track people’s energy habits at home, and as a result, conserve energy.

Both competitions clearly require excellent presentation skills. To help current UB students improve upon this talent, preparation workshops are available through the Graduate School. Odonkor took advantage of this offering, created specifically for 3MT, where, he explains, he learned how to craft attention-grabbing sound bites and develop his stage presence.

He stresses the importance of perfecting the academic version of the elevator pitch. “Today, engineers are no longer confined to labs or behind computer screens. We are expected to engage with real people and problems, all in real time,” says Odonkor. “The value of being able to succinctly convey thoughts and ideas in such situations cannot be emphasized enough. It is what gives us that competitive edge.”

“Phil has always been a research visionary and a skilled communicator of his research ideas,” says Kemper Lewis, professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Odonkor’s advisor. “His ability to communicate complex ideas about energy optimization in understandable terms is unequalled. Phil is a consummate professional and has a long successful career ahead of him doing transformational research and disseminating it to diverse audiences.”

Most recently, Odonkor has been invited to participate in TEDxBuffalo, where he will be discussing how smart houses will be able to alter themselves using Artificial Intelligence. The event will be held at Babeville in Buffalo on October 18.

After graduation, Odonkor plans to become an academic researcher in the field of energy optimization. He also holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UB.

Transforming Our Tomorrow took place on April 23, 2018 and 3MT was held on March 9, 2018. For more information, visit the Transforming Our Tomorrow on the UB Sustainability webpage and the Three Minute Thesis webpage on the UB Graduate School website.