Visiting Student Benoît de Patoul is Mapping a Better Future

Our blogger, Molly Gilstrap, recently interviewed a visiting student from Belgium about his research and time at UMKC.

Benoît de Patoul is working towards a master’s degree from the ECAM Brussels School of Engineering in Industrial Engineering. Read on to hear about his wildfire research and how the Midwest weather was something entirely new.

Tell us more about the research you have been working on!
The research is about mapping the vegetation loss on radar images after a wildfire. When I talk to people about the research, they often ask me the same question: “Why do you need to map that?” The answer: It allows us to save human lives. You are probably wondering why, right?

A heavy rain after a wildfire can result in breakouts of mudflow or debris flow, which can threaten residential communities and even kill people. Knowing where the burned areas are located is critical for agencies to prepare people for secondary hazards.

The idea of the algorithm is to take two radar images, one before and one after the fire. Using these two images, the algorithm will detect the changes and classify them. The image below shows some of our results. The red represents the burned areas, the black shows the changes in the urban area, the green shows the changes in the vegetation, and the blue represents areas with no change.

What peaked your interest in this project?
I have always wanted to conduct my research in the United States, so I started looking and asking around to see if someone could offer me the right opportunity. The first person to contact me was Dr. Chen at UMKC SCE. He offered me different subjects, but this particular one had a connection to NASA and image processing. I directly seized the opportunity, not only because it was related to NASA, but because it was going to be very challenging for me.

Did you come across any obstacles or challenges?
Yes, a lot of challenges and obstacles. First, there is a lot of theory I had to learn in a very short time. Second, I had to develop an algorithm to accomplish the objectives of the research. That’s very challenging because it’s a long process and as you develop the algorithm, you will always have obstacles that can take a lot of time to overcome.

How has your experience been as a visiting student?
I really loved this experience. Discovering a new culture is something completely unique. I would encourage anybody to try it! It a very enriching experience, I learned a lot about myself and I made a lot of good friends.

How have you liked living in Kansas City?
I was living near the Country Club Plaza on campus in the Oak Place apartments. Kansas City is a very beautiful city with very friendly people. I would certainly recommend it. The city has good public transportation and it is free for UMKC students. The weather can be kind of weird because it can radically change from one day to another, but you get used to it.

What are your future plans?
I’m completing my master’s degree this year. I really like to learn new things and I’ve been accepted to do another master’s degree in Technology Management at University College London. It is not an easy task to be accepted, but I think what really helped me was choosing to do my research abroad, especially in United States.

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