From Solar Cars to Climate Models, an Engineer Chases the Sun

Written by: Tracey Regan,

Ivan Mitevski is Newark College of Engineering's Outstanding Engineer

Success in a Snapshot: Ivan Mitevski*, a Columbia University-bound mathematical modeler, was honored at the 2018 NCE Salute to Excellence as both the outstanding senior for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and for the entire Newark College of Engineering. While juggling two separate degrees – electrical engineering and applied mathematics – and maintaining a 4.0 average, Mitevski is also an ambitious contributor to high-profile research in both his departments. Last year, his work with computer engineer Durgamadhab Misra on new methods to improve the speed of computing (by replacing silicon-based semiconductors with germanium) took first place among undergraduate projects at the 2017 Dana Knox Student Research Showcase. He went on to present his research at the 231st Electrochemical Society Meeting and the annual Philadelphia AMP Research Symposium Conference, where his poster won second place. Mitevski is currently modeling asymmetric, multilayered membrane filters with mathematician Lou Kondic, and plans to continue his research this summer with Ian Griffiths, a noted modeling specialist at Oxford University and Kondic collaborator. While he won’t admit to possessing Hermione Granger’s time-turner, he also served on the executive board of the student chapter of IEEE, as a New Jersey Governor’s STEM Scholar and as a resident assistant for the NJIT Honors Residence Hall. A year ago, he co-founded NJIT’s first solar car team, which will, remarkably, compete this July in the Formula Sun Grand Prix in Nebraska, the qualifying round of the American Solar Challenge. If successful, the car will set off on a nearly a 2,000-mile national race its first year.

NCE Salute icon

Singular Accomplishment: Mitevski points to his recent admission to the tiny, highly competitive doctoral program in applied mathematics at Columbia University as his crowning achievement so far. That milestone, he says, is the culmination of an academic journey that began with determination, but little certainty, when he moved at the age of 18 to the United States from his hometown, Stojakovo, Macedonia. He came alone. “My country offered only limited resources for research and I understood that the only way to pursue my academic ambitions would be to move to the United States,” he says. “My life transformed overnight when I arrived at Newark airport in August 2012 with a student visa and my parents’ total savings.” He enrolled at Bergen Community College and took several jobs to support himself.  “My English was not good. In one of my first classes – History – I noticed one day everyone but me was handing something in. The word I hadn’t understood was ‘homework!’ ” After earning an associate’s degree and receiving permanent residence status, he was able to transfer to NJIT and dive into high level research.

Peak Adventure: In July, NJIT’s first solar car will make its debut on the national stage at the Formula Sun Grand Pix, the qualifying round of the American Solar Challenge in Hastings, Nebraska. If successful, it will embark on a nearly 2,000-mile trek – much of it on the open road - to Bend, Ore. A year ago, there was neither a team nor a car, until Mitevski and another electrical engineering major, senior Jefferson Guerrero, co-founded it. “When Leonid Tsybeskov (chairman of the ECE department) suggested this to me, I jumped on it. We’ve since recruited over 60 people on campus from more than 21 majors to participate,” he says, enhancing his appreciation “of what people with different backgrounds can bring to solve a problem.” Among the many teams working together to build the car, the mechanical squad is currently testing different resin concentrations in the carbon fiber body to optimize lightness and strength. Mitevski said team members also made it a point to attend last year’s competition in Austin to jumpstart the project. “We talked to everybody to learn as much as we could, and formed a connection with the team from UC Berkeley. Some of the team members have since followed up with them for advice and they’ve been really helpful, donating their body molds,” he notes. “While no school shares its battery design, this is a very friendly competition.” But with potentially high stakes: major car manufacturers such as Tesla send representatives to the race. “This is where innovation in solar cars occurs.”

NJIT's solar car team

Ambition: When Mitevski was a child, he started recording data on the weather so he could make predictions for his family, who were farming. “Each day, I documented the temperature – and whether it was sunny, cloudy or rainy. At the end of the summer, I used this data to predict the weather next year.” He quickly realized how difficult it is to make accurate predictions for precise locations. “June was typically sunny, but not always, and as farmers that affected us. A late snow in April might fall in a tiny region, while there would be nothing just a few miles away.” His efforts, often unsuccessful, nonetheless fueled his fascination for patterns – and math. The year before he moved to the U.S, Mitevski took part in the World Physics Olympics in Bangkok. Now armed with sophisticated modeling skills and high-powered computation, he is considering returning to his childhood preoccupation with the climate. “I’m interested in models that incorporate the interaction of the atmosphere, oceans, land and ice, as well as the energy from the sun. While current models provide predictions on a large scale, I would like to work on the development of predictions on a much smaller scale, where the impact on the environment and people like my family is the greatest.”

*Mitevski is a member of the Albert Dorman Honors College