Hello — tell us a bit about who are you and what do you do.
My name is Mehari Zewde Tekeste. I am originally from Eritrea, located in the Horn of Africa. My parents did business food processing industry and and ran a restaurant. I received my B.Sc. in Soil and Water at Asmara University in Eritrea with a lot of courses in geology. After graduatating, I completed my graduate studies working mainly in Soil Technology and Soil Dynamics (testing and computational modeling).
What are you working on now?
Currently I have been working at Deere & Company, Moline Technology Innovation Center located in Moline, IL. My work involves using modeling and testing techniques such as discrete element, finite element methods to improve the understanding of soil-and crop-to-machine interactions and support simulation based design of off-road agriculture and construction machinery.
Working on soil dynamics area has been my strong interest over the last decade and especially on material models calibration and validation to improve predictive capability of numerical tools. My strong desire is the integration of soil dynamics techniques developed over the last fifty years into simulation based tools and apply them in product design process for wide range of applications including soil compaction, tillage tools, tire-terrain characterization and grain & biomass materials flow.
Do you have a first childhood memory of “engineering” something?
Building car toys from recycled fence wires every summer with neighbor kids and ride the toys on muddy grounds. Another interesting childhood memory was building sand castle and adding the right amount of water and mixing it properly with sand grains always holds angle of repose longer until the casel falls off as the moisture dries. Recently I observed my 4-yr old son making sand castle in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Park. The magic being the cohesion forces between the sand grains can be strong when the right amount of water is mixed to the sand grains.
Did you have a specific “aha” moment when you knew that you wanted to focus on engineering?
Measurement of penetration resistance and applying the principles of soil mechanics for lunar vehicle mobility and traction in Apollo Lunar mission and 1950s works at National Soil Dynamics Laboratory in Auburn, AL for tire and tillage designs were very instrumental in making my choice in this interesting soil engineering field.
Describe your path to becoming a engineer. Have you had any mentors along the way?
I was so privileged to work under great advisors and supervisors A. J. Koolen (Soil Technolgy group) and Leo Stroosnijder (Erosion and Soil&Water Conservation) from University of Wageningen; my PhD advisors from National Soil Dynamics Laboratory USDA-ARS Auburn, IL (Randy L Raper, E. Bill Tollner and Thomas Way); and Carol Plouffe (supervisor in Systems Performance Analysis at Deere & Co).
What does a typical day look like for you?
Problem solving skills and thinking “black box” or six sigma approach for soil and crop engaging machine products design and functional improvements.
Do you have a memorable moment or fun story you want to share about your work?
Presenting discrete element simulation videos to audiences.
Do you feel a responsibility to continue to something bigger than yourself? What do you hope to continue throught your work?
Apply the principles of soil mechanics developed in the 1950s into numerical models (such as DEM and FEA) and implement them in industrial applications.
If you could give one piece of advice to another engineer starting out, what would you say?
If you are interested in solving complex systems to meet society needs in food, fiber, and machine systems, engineering is a rewarding field.
Are there things that you want to tackle 5 to 10 years down the road?
The principles of soil mechanics were developed to soil dynamics in the 1950s and 1960s and in the 1970s and 1980s empirical predictive earth-moving equations and soil-bin tests were used successfully. Nowadays the advancement for terramechanics in soils is in calibrating models and using the advantage of increased computing power. I cannot put it in numbers but the next 5-10 years will see the rapid advancement in high-performance computing powers. Soil– and crop-to-machine interactions models are expected to be on the desktop computers of design engineers performing virtually functional machine performance and knowledge processes.
What are your current best sources of news and information for staying up on your field?
I read the journal articles from Journal of Terramechanics, Soil and Tillage Research, ASABE, Biosystems Engineering, and other interesting journals such as Farm Journal, Futurist, and software bulletins from vendors, and magazines. I also do search online for articles related to daily work.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what might you have gone into?
I probably would have in academic institutions teaching or working in the mining industry for geological engineering working on rocks and bulk material handling.
What’s your favorite food?
Enjera with tsebhi derho (Chicken Stew) a special food for honored guests in the Tigrna tradition of Eritrea and Ethiopian highlanders (commonly called Abysianians or hebesha) food.