Alumni Spotlight: 2023 Hangai Prize Recipient Zoe Cooperband

by Caroline Roistacher

Zoe Cooperband graduated from Cal Poly in 2018 after double-majoring in math and architectural engineering. Since graduation, she has been working on getting her Ph.D. in applied mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Cooperband explained how, although her Ph.D. field uses a different skill set than what she was studying at Cal Poly, she was given valuable experience during college. She said, “I think at the end of the day, you still have to try new ideas out. We have to experiment. I think I got quite a lot of practice doing that at Cal Poly.”

Cooperband is in the last year of her Ph.D. program and is focusing a large portion of her dissertation on graphic statics, something she was first introduced to while in an ARCE class taught by faculty member Ed Saliklis. She is defending her thesis this April.

Cooperband recently traveled to Melbourne to present some preliminary findings she has discovered throughout her Ph.D. at the annual symposium held by the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS).

In Melbourne, she presented her theory of graphic statics. She discussed how advanced mathematical tools from algebraic topology such as cellular sheaves can be used to describe this theory.

“It's a kind of lost art,” Cooperband said. “It was invented 150 years ago, and it was a preeminent structural analysis technique that petered out after computers came along. But, it's really elegant and it was very popular back in the day. More recently, graphic statics is seeing a resurgence of interest and new ideas.”

Cooperband’s paper, “Towards Homological Methods in Graphic Statics,” received the 2023 Hangai prize, alongside three other winners. This award recognizes young, talented researchers, designers, engineers and architects working in the field of shell and spatial structures whose papers submitted to the annual IASS Symposium are judged to be most meritorious by the Hangai Prize Committee.

“I am overall happy about winning the award and I am grateful for the mentorship by my advisor and collaborators that allowed me to reach this point,” Cooperband said. “I also feel more motivated to publish in the future at this conference and at other conferences and academic journals.”

The Hangai Prize recognizes exceptional contributions to the honoree’s field and promotes innovation and excellence. Since it is awarded on an international level, this global perspective helps to foster collaboration and knowledge exchange among professionals working in different regions and contexts.

“The fact that she won the prize is a big deal,” Saliklis said. “This is an international stage where you're competing with the best of the best and she won. It's a testament to her ability to persevere in a high-pressure world.”

In the future, Cooperband is working on publishing a few other papers that go deeper into this connection and extrapolate previously unknown theories in structural engineering.

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