Zhengyue Anna Dong: modeling and optimizing water irrigation

Monday, Jun 8, 2020
by Sharon Adarlo

Zhengyue Anna Dong, 22, Class of 2020



Dong received a bachelor’s degree from the Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering (ORFE), and she completed requirements for the Certificate Program in Statistics and Machine Learning at the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning (CSML) and the Certificate Program in Engineering and Management Systems at ORFE.



Dong’s independent project for CSML, which was also adapted slightly from her ORFE senior thesis, concerns itself with irrigation modeling and evaluating the impact of irrigation strategies.

“I am interested in water security, and I wanted to see how it relates to agriculture. Agriculture accounts for approximately 70 percent of global freshwater use,” said Dong.

Irrigation, a technique that dates from ancient times, remains a very important method to ensure food production. Prudent management of irrigation systems will become more vital due to growing populations around the world and the impact of climate change, said Dong.

With these concerns in mind, Dong proposed in her study to extend an existing model for irrigation schemes and include the use of weather forecast data. She then created a novel irrigation strategy which uses optimization and rainfall simulations to minimize water volume used throughout the growing season.

“Data science can ensure a more sustainable future for water irrigation,” said Dong

She also uses a life-cycle assessment methodology to evaluate the environmental impact of different irrigation schemes, in addition to crop yields for each scheme.

From her study, Dong observed that there are trade-offs between profitability and environmental impact, but she also found that an irrigation strategy that incorporates four days of weather forecast data may optimally balance both interests.

Dong is continuing her research this summer thanks to a CSML grant. An article about the award can be found here.

Dong’s thesis advisors were ORFE’s Reggie Caudill, visiting professor, and Ramon van Handel, associate professor; and Amilcare Porporato, the Thomas J. Wu '94 Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Princeton Environmental Institute. Porporato, along with researcher Guilia Vico, first introduced the irrigation model that Dong used for her project.

After her graduation, Dong will be an analyst in Boston at hedge fund firm Bracebridge Capital, where she previously served as an intern.

Dong said she is looking forward to her new role as a practitioner and learning new skills at Bracebridge, but she is also interested in extending those skills to broader problems beyond finance in the future.

She has also been an intern at Deutsche Bank and Joint US China Collaboration on Clean Energy.


Extracurricular activities:

Dong enjoys singing and was part of Princeton’s Chapel Choir and Glee Club. Dong was also a residential advisor at Wilson College.


For fun:

Dong loves being outdoors whether it’s running, walking, or learning about flora and fauna. She also enjoys debating with her family on different topics from history to politics.