ME grad student receives computational/data science fellowship

For Kevin G. McIver, a second-year PhD student in the School of Mechanical Engineering (ME), his hard work keeps paying off. Just last month, he was named a recipient of the 2020 ACM SIGHPC Computational and Data Science Fellowship. This fellowship is awarded to underrepresented minority and female graduate students to help increase diversity in research areas employing computational modeling and simulation. McIver’s current research involves modeling and simulation of brain injuries due to various impacts.
Photo of Kevin McIver and Eric Nauman
During his master's program, Kevin McIver collected helmet impact data with ME undergraduate Patrick Lee as Professor Eric Nauman observed.

McIver, a member of the Chickasaw Nation and a Chickasaw Nation General Scholarship recipient, is part of the Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership Program at Purdue, which he describes as a “huge asset” in connecting him with graduate students in other disciplines. He also has received the Cordier Fellowship for graduate study in ME and a GEM Fellowship that provides for his tuition fees, living stipend, and a paid internship this summer with a sponsoring employer, the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA).

The remote summer internship with IDA has used McIver's knowledge of modeling and simulation combined with the experience of his mentors there, Dr. Russ Miller and Dr. Carlos Alvarez, research staff members in IDA's Operational Evaluation Division's Live Fire Test and Evaluation Group, to assist in projects aimed at validating large-scale computer models of underbody blast events for vehicles and underwater blast events for large naval vessels. After a summer full of remote meetings, McIver is still hoping that he may be able to visit the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland to view the live fire test of a vehicle program with which he’s been involved.

McIver’s work for IDA has built on his summer 2019 internship at Corvid Technologies, where he learned about large-scale finite element simulation. His current research is to develop a high-resolution simulation of the brain’s mechanical behavior to incorporate into a model such as CAVEMAN, Corvid’s computational model of the human body that predicts the occurrence of traumatic brain injuries from an injury threat. He runs the models on a self-built compute cluster using a finite element software and servers donated by Corvid’s CEO. At Corvid, McIver profited by discussions with the company’s CEO, Dr. David Robinson, his mentor, Dr. Kevin Lister, as well as Patrick Glomski, who introduced him to the idea of building his own computer cluster. During both internships, McIver has taken advantage of the opportunity to work with a variety of expert mentors, which “…has been very helpful in improving my project management skills and developed my understanding of how to work in an age-diverse office environment…," he said.

Interestingly enough, McIver’s academic trajectory began with Star Wars. Growing up in nearby Brownsburg, IN, he decided to study biomedical engineering at Purdue so he could learn how to make Luke Skywalker’s hand. He came to Purdue intending to earn a bachelor's and a master's in biomedical engineering (BME) and then study medicine elsewhere.

Instead, during his undergraduate years in BME, McIver switched academic gears after meeting ME Prof. Eric Nauman, his Statics instructor, who “became the single largest influence on my research life outside of my parents,” McIver said. This led to McIver’s work in Nauman’s Human Injury Research and Regenerative Technologies (HIRRT) Lab and in Prof. Tom Talavage’s Purdue Neurotrauma Group (PNG). From human injury research, modeling the football player’s brain’s response to impact, it was a natural transition to move from sports applications of human injury modeling into military applications to fit within McIver’s passion for research and development in national defense.

Although McIver switched to ME for graduate school (where he received his MS in only one year), he said that his background in anatomy and physiology give him “unique perspectives that make me stand out compared to pure ME peers when it comes to human injury work.” Conversely, he has had to learn some basic ME knowledge such as dynamics and machine design.

In addition to his research, McIver has rounded out his graduate years by being a Teaching Assistant in Engineering Honors, writing the curriculum for the Milestones course on Finite Element Analysis in his first year and teaching it during its official launch in Fall 2019. Outside of Purdue, he enjoys strongman-style weightlifting and cooking “to maintain sanity”.

Effective time management plays a major role in McIver’s life. As an undergraduate, McIver realized that he didn’t have the bandwidth to continue to play trombone in several Purdue bands and be equally involved in research, so the bands lost out. During his internships, he continued his graduate research for several hours each night after a full day doing the internship work. “Learning how to chunk our own projects into digestible sub-ideas has been a crucial experience that will help me for the rest of my professional career,” he said.

After finishing his PhD in December 2021, McIver sees himself doing R & D at a top defense contractor. Ultimately, he would like to work on weapons and vehicle design projects to help the U.S. Armed Forces.

Writer: Joanne Lax,

Source: Kevin McIver,