Behind the PhD Degree – Edwin Ross

As a born Lego fanatic and maker of all sorts of things, you would have guessed that young doctor Edwin Ross would become the engineer he is today. But landing in the world of science was not as clear-cut to him. His pathway went from gyrocopter engineer to virtual sensor builder and more to do his part of the good in the world.

The people behind the science, and the science behind the people.

Born to be a maker

You’d think Edwin was meant to be the engineer he is today if you knew how he had already designed and built intricate contraptions with his Lego from a young age. And you’d be half right too. Though a PhD degree was all but planned from the start.

You see, Edwin studied to become an engineer, but something in him made him always want to broaden his horizons. Having fun is one thing, but spending your time on this planet to help others was his desire. So, when it came to a master’s degree, he went to Denmark to study the ins and outs of sustainable development. When he returned, his itch to be a maker and new-found knowledge took him to work on the electrification of gyrocopters and other automotive technologies.

Edwin’s desire to learn had brought him thus far, but doing a PhD to become an expert was not his cup of tea. Ross: “I think I feared science was only about studying something, about just looking at things, without actually making something. And previously, that meant me working away on my own in a little sous-terrain room breaking your mind over less applicable problems. When I came to Wetsus, I saw a community, an open ambiance, and had to reconsider my thoughts.”

Measuring the immeasurable

At Wetsus, the maker was tasked with what initially sounds like an impossible task: building a virtual sensor. Using the data of other sensors, he was supposed to essentially measure a parameter that all other instruments could not. Edwin: “Sensor data fusion is all about modeling and machine learning – combining data with models, you can predict parameters based on an input.”

To get clean drinking water, many places worldwide add bits of chlorine-derived molecules. But as a side effect, chlorate particles form. These bits are toxic at higher concentrations and thus, have to be carefully monitored. The problem is that there is no such thing as a chlorate sensor. These places that monitor the drinking water have to do with a set of otherwise seemingly unrelated parameters.

“To ensure safe drinking water cost-effectively, my research was to model the behavior of other chemical species and variables such as temperature and pH to infer the chlorate concentration. And we managed to do so because we could measure such variables in our lab. Given the sensor data and chemical calculations, I ended up with an algorithm that can accurately estimate the chlorate concentration in real-time. And we continued to improve upon it, as we designed more effective, automated and cheaper variants later.”

The spirit of a boy and his Legos

Having contently contributed to a greater goal has left Edwin only chasing more. Maybe not so in academia anymore, as he enjoys the process of making too. A little more design here and there can’t hurt. And that leaves him to create his own challenges next. Who knows what is to come? We do know that the spirit of the boy with his Lego lives on, and it will not be the last we see of him and his impossible creations.