By Tiffany Whitfield & Maya Reid
Ozan Duran is calculating his way to graduation. He will earn a Bachelor of Science in applied mathematics from Old Dominion University's College of Sciences this summer. Instead of stepping foot into a new career, Duran will set sail on an Atlantic expedition.
Duran is refitting a 40-foot steel boat for the journey.
"I plan on taking it on a sailing expedition to western Greenland, Iceland, Jan Mayen, the Faroe Islands, Shetland, Norway and Svalbard, then going down the entire western European coastline and ending the trip in Turkey," he said. "As this is supposed to take nine months, I'll be working on automating the sailboat and doing autonomous collaborative robotics research with the vessel, drone-bounce radio for longer-distance communication and other such research."
He will rely on his mathematics and engineering interests to guide him on this journey.
"Math helps me gain a ground-up understanding of topics in the computer engineering world, such as computer vision, circuits/digital and analog signal processing," he said.
Interestingly, mathematics was not his strong suit as a youth. But he decided to major in it at ODU because of the challenge it presented.
"Mathematics was the only thing that I truly struggled with growing up," Duran said. "I like to be challenged, as I have a hard time getting motivated for things that come easily."
Duran was born in Fairfax, Virginia, but spent nearly a decade of his childhood in Burhaniye, Turkey, and Ichenhausen, Germany. His family moved back to the United States when he was 14, and he graduated from Freedom High School in Loudoun County.
He attended Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and served as president of the NOVA STEM Club.
"The research I did prior to coming to ODU was electrodynamic wheels in which the induced currents and forces were characterized," Duran said. "I was also teaching myself about robotics/drones, and I built a few quadcopters while being involved with D.C.-area Drone User Group during its initial startup."
Duran, who earned an associate degree in science, credits three mathematics and statistics faculty members with being the most academically challenging to him: Professor John Adam, Associate Professor Raymond Cheng and Eminent Professor John Tweed.
"He was a very interesting and intelligent young man with lots of ideas, very friendly and helpful to both me and his fellow students," Adam said.
"I like that I can explain things mathematically without having to open up books to look up an equation and have an easy time understanding how things work just by reading what is supposed to happen mathematically," Duran said. "I'm a visual thinker and was typically the one explaining abstract applications for topics that we were learning in our classes."
Duran looked to enhance his research skills at ODU.
"While searching for an advisor, I came across Dr. Gene Hou in the mechanical engineering department, who got me involved with a senior design group that was struggling with the programming of their roboboat," Duran said. "This started my research into autonomous vehicles and computer vision."
Now he's designing and building an aerial platform for autonomous development.
"I also have built a prototype for a low-cost underwater sonar system, which I would like to continue developing," he added.
"Although Ozan majors in math, he is very good in programming," Hou said. "Once he is attracted to something, he will dedicate himself to it."
Duran has been afforded a plethora of opportunities at ODU and created some of his own.
"Since I've been at ODU, I remodeled the house and garage I'm currently living in and decided to start a machine shop in my garage so that I could own and operate my own low-medium energy plasma physics lab," he said. "I taught myself machining by purchasing, repairing and selling used machinery. Around the same time, I decided to try to start a general-purpose robotics club at ODU."
Duran admits that ODU's affordability was attractive to him, as well as its inclusivity.
"I'd say ODU is a good small school, and I've had the best of luck reading about research that a professor is doing online, then going in person to talk to them about it, which has almost always led to an invitation to get involved with their work," he said. "I'm fairly certain that at larger schools the same opportunities are not as available, as there is a lot of competition for those roles."