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Modeling Photon Management in Photobioreactors (PBRs)




2: Mechanical Engineering

Faculty Supervisor:

Nick Fang

Faculty email:


Apply by:


Turga Ganapathy (tganapat@mit.edu)

Project Description

Photobioreactors (PBRs) are a class of bioreactors which utilize photosynthetic microorganisms such as marine microalgae to convert light, carbon dioxide (CO2), and nutrients into algal biomass. By integrating biomass production and contaminant removal, PBRs provide a promising solution to food and fuel scarcity as well as wastewater and flue gas treatment within a single multi-functional device. Surprisingly, there are no standardized design guidelines for evaluating the feasibility of PBR configurations and corresponding operating conditions due to the complex interplay of optofluidic phenomena and biochemical processes within reactors. Recognizing that the specific growth rate of microalgae is significantly influenced by light distribution, the general research objective of this project is to use computational methods to develop analytical tools which will enable us to converge upon efficient and sustainable light management strategies for PBRs. The student will have creative freedom to experiment with an existing numerical solver of the Radiative Transfer Equation (RTE)—built by Luis Baldelomar Pinto who worked in our group under the virtual MIT Summer Research Program (MSRPx) this past summer—to accomplish largely self-defined research goals in line with the project’s general research objective. Examples of potential applications of the RTE solver include (but are not limited to) investigating the feasibility of various PBR light management schemes and assessing correlations between light distribution and fluid flow by coupling the RTE solver to the Navier-Stokes equations. For specifics, please reach out to Turga (tganapat@mit.edu) so that we can work toward designing a UROP experience that best suits you!


A background in or a willingness to learn optics. Attention to detail. An interest in developing analytical tools to advance the deployment of socioeconomically democratic technologies for food, fuel, and water security. This project is ideal for third or fourth year students. Familiarity with programming required.