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Daniel Selva

Daniel Selva

“Internationalization is one of the defining principles of Cornell’s identity.”

International Faculty Fellow Daniel Selva is an assistant professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell's College of Engineering.

Selva joined the Cornell faculty in July 2014. He has a dual background in electrical engineering and aeronautical engineering, with master's degrees from UPC Telecom Barcelona, Spain, and Supaero in Toulouse, France, and a PhD in space systems from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He studies systems design and systems architecture.

Combined with four years of professional experience in Kourou (French Guiana) as a member of the Ariane 5 launch team, his experiences have given him a true awareness and appreciation of cultural differences, he explains—making international diversity a guiding principle in his personal and professional life.

“I consider exposure to cultural diversity an extremely important element in higher education. Not only does it foster tolerance and sensitivity to human rights issues, but it also produces professionals who are more capable of taking a global perspective and thinking out of the box when facing a problem,” he says.

Selva has received two international development awards from the MIT MISTI initiative. His future research and teaching plans will continue to have an international component.

His work focuses on the design of new systems of satellites that provide measurements of the Earth’s land, oceans, and atmosphere. Traditional Earth-observing satellites are based in bus-sized structures that carry several instruments and are very costly to develop, launch, and operate. He is studying novel architectures for satellite systems that exploit recent advances in nanosatellite technology and artificial intelligence.

Selva is working to develop a Cubesat (a very small satellite) for remote sensing of agriculture with Spanish and Russian partners. This project will have an educational component that will foster collaboration between Cornell students and Spanish and Russian students.

“A CubeSat is a little smaller than the box of Kleenex that I have on my desk,” he says. “We are designing a constellation of 12 to 18 CubeSats that measure vertical profiles of atmospheric temperature and humidity. These measurements can be used to improve our ability to forecast and handle extreme-weather events such as hurricanes and tropical storms.”

In another project, Selva and his team are developing an intelligent software program that can interact with engineers to help them design better satellites and satellite constellations. They use evolutionary algorithms that are inspired by natural selection.

“Recently,” he says, “I have started incorporating swarm intelligence, which is based on large groups of identical agents, like ants or bees, from which complex behavior emerges despite the simplicity of the actions taken by individual agents. Fascinating stuff!”

All of Selva's projects have the potential to have global-scale impact; in their work, he and his research team have been collaborating with NASA, as well as with universities in Barcelona, Toulouse, Moscow, and Boston.

“The International Faculty Fellowship provides a forum to promote my international work to other departments and colleges,” Selva says. For example, he recently planned and implemented a workshop with the Cornell Institute for European Studies on the differences in engineering education between Europe, the United States, and elsewhere.

Selva explains that he is guided in his work by the concept of global citizenship.

“A global citizen is someone who has a high sensitivity to issues that occur outside of his/her own territory and a desire to help solve these issues. The three key aspects of a global citizen are similar to the three components of most autonomous vehicles,” he explains: 

  • Sensory: A global citizen must stay informed of what happens in the global community in order to identify opportunities to help.
  • Decision-making: A global citizen must have critical analysis capabilities in order to identify a course of action that will contribute to solving issues.
  • Action-oriented: A global citizen must have the drive and skills necessary to execute the planned course of action.

These three aspects can only be obtained, Selva says, through a combination of traditional education, programs to develop communication and leadership skills, programs to foster diversity, and opportunities for international study such as internships.