IGE students win agent-based modelling competition “go with the flow”

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Snapshot of an animation showing the migration of hydrocarbon molecules (agents in yellow and green) through different rock layers and structures in the subsurface.
Snapshot of an animation showing the migration of hydrocarbon molecules (agents in yellow and green) through different rock layers and structures in the subsurface.

Two Heriot-Watt PhD students, Quentin Corlay and Bastian Steffens, of the Institute of GeoEnergy Engineering’s (IGE) GeoDataScience and Uncertainty Quantification Group, won first place (9000 USD) in an international online programming data/geoscience competition.

Agent-based models are often used to understand the behaviour of complex natural systems, like the flocking behaviour of starlings, financial markets or the spread of diseases through discrete movement of agents following only a few simple rules.

The goal of the competition was to build an agent-based model that mimics hydrocarbon movement through different rock layers and structures to identify pathways and accumulations zones in the subsurface.

Bastian said: "A great opportunity to give yourself a little break from the PhD and work on a different problem in a team. Even more exciting if the effort you put in eventually gets appreciated."

Quentin said: "Working on challenging problems, seeking for innovative solutions in a very short period of time stimulated by competition and interaction with other participants is really a great way to learn new skills."

The challenge was organized by Xeek – a platform powered by Shell that hosts competitions for data and geoscientists – and had a total of 71 competing teams aiming to build the best model. The final model was evaluated on several unknown datasets and scored based upon similarity to the truth case, realistic movement of hydrocarbon molecules through the geological environment, the speed of the code, its universal applicability and the visualisation of the final results.

Associate Professor Daniel Arnold said: "To win this award, competing against 71 other excellent teams from academia and industry worldwide and in their spare time, is a fantastic achievement for Quentin and Bastian. We are really pleased and proud for them both and it shows high calibre of talent at Institute of Geoenergy Engineering. Our thanks must go to the NERC CDT in Oil and Gas and NPIF who sponsor their PhD's and without whom this collaboration would not have happened."

To find out more or give it a go yourself, visit https://xeek.ai/challenges/go-with-the-flow/overview

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