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USU assistant professor Matthew Harris recently received a grant for $347,000 from the Office of Naval Research to help find new techniques to control and optimize the performance of mechanical systems such as spacecraft and underwater vehicles.

“The research is addressing fundamental research problems in optimization and control,” Harris said in a prepared statement Friday. “I am thankful for ONR’s support.”

Harris told The Herald Journal he has been teaching mechanical and aerospace engineering since 2019 when he joined the engineering department. He has been in the industry for five years.

The project, slated to begin this month, will provide three graduate students funding for tuition, fees insurance and salary — Harris will receive funding, as well.

“I’m looking forward to working with colleagues at the Navy and the students here at USU,” Harris said.

The main research focus will be an investigation into relaxation techniques — a mathematical technique — for optimization-based control problems. According to the statement, the construction of exact relaxations can be used to improve the efficiency of algorithms and find quick solutions.

Harris and his team have used the relaxation techniques to solve optimization issues for space-related technology such as rockets. Although optimization formulas can improve efficiency, the problems can be challenging to solve.

“They allow you to solve problems quickly and provably, but they’ve not been used for the types of large-scale problems in which the Navy is interested. Our first area of work is to broaden these techniques,” he said.

The second area of focus will be algorithmic customization and control, such as discovering different movements for submarines being followed by other vehicles.

Harris and his graduate students’ research will be funded for the next three years. He is currently teaching optimal spacecraft guidance at USU this semester.

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