- Number 313 |
- June 7, 2010
Sandian Cliff Ho applies engineering to many diverse challenges
Sandian Cliff Ho applies
engineering to many
Cliff Ho has made a career out of tackling great challenges at Sandia National Laboratories. A distinguished member of technical staff, Ho has worked on problems in water treatment and distribution, detection of trace explosives, nuclear waste management, microchemical sensor systems for environmental monitoring, and, currently, concentrating solar power and renewable energy technologies. It’s a résumé impressive enough to garner international attention, and Ho has done it all in just 17 years.
The Chinese Institute of Engineers–USA recently honored Ho’s achievements by naming him the 2010 Asian American Engineer of the Year. The CIE–USA annually presents the award to outstanding Asian American engineers and scientists who make significant, lasting and global contributions to the nation.
Ho joined the Labs in 1993 to develop thermal-hydrologic models for the Yucca Mountain Project, and quickly became a lead investigator for the Viability Assessment and Site Recommendation reports submitted to Congress and the president. He also led the development of comprehensive performance-assessment models of complex systems ranging from long-term covers for waste isolation to chemical transport through skin.
In 2000, Ho initiated and led a project to develop microchemical sensors to monitor environmental contaminants in wells, which led to four patents and significant commercial industry interest. Ho also worked to improve sensor systems and protocols to detect trace explosives for DOE and the Department of Homeland Security. Five years later, he led research in water treatment and distribution security, including UV disinfection and modeling to predict how contaminants would move through the water distribution network.
Ho turned his attention to solar energy in 2008 and is currently a principal investigator in a group that looks for ways to use concentrating solar power to capture and store solar energy for utility-scale electricity production. Ho develops models and analyses that can improve system efficiency and performance. For example, the force of gravity and wind can distort the shape of the mirrors, decreasing efficiency and ultimately increasing the cost of electricity. Ho models those changes to predict and understand impacts of wind and gravity, and then works with industry to design more efficient, cost-effective systems.
Ho is also pioneering the use of probabilistic models to more reliably predict the performance and cost of concentrating solar power systems. Probabilistic models have the advantage of being able to quantify the impact of uncertainties on simulated performance metrics such as energy production and cost.
“The objective is to honor the inherent uncertainty in these complex systems,” Ho says. “We can then provide companies with more confidence and reliability in their models by quantifying the likelihood of achieving specific cost and performance metrics. Sensitivity analyses using these probabilistic models can also be used to prioritize R&D activities on system parameters that have the most impact on these metrics.”
His love of math, science and engineering started at a young age, and his father encouraged him to pursue mechanical engineering. “My dad thought it was the broadest of the engineering fields,” Ho says. “I think it continues to appeal to me because of the diversity of projects I have been able to engage in, from waste management to microchemical sensors to water treatment to solar power. I guess my dad was right.”
Ho’s parents moved from China to the U.S. in the 1950s, and Ho was born and raised in Wisconsin. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of California-Berkeley.
In his free time, Ho enjoys tennis, skiing, biking, golfing and swimming, and he hopes to someday compete in an Ironman Triathlon. He regularly volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and Sandia’s Technology Outreach programs, encouraging students to pursue math and science, and to eventually see what Sandia has to offer.
“Receiving this award is a great honor, and I am so pleased to represent Sandia,” Ho says. “I think one of the best things about working here is the diversity and the opportunities that Sandia provides for its engineers. The ability to work on many different yet nationally important programs within the same company is rare and I genuinely appreciate that. It’s been wonderful.”
Submitted by DOE's Sandia National Laboratories