SIAM News Blog

Chicago-area SIAM Student Chapters Visit Argonne

By Gail Pieper

A few questions come up again and again in student sessions at SIAM meetings: What’s it like to work at a national lab? How does the environment at a national lab differ from that of academia?

Three Chicago-area SIAM chapters banded together on April 12 to find some answers for themselves in a one-day visit to the Mathematics and Computer Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory. MCS researchers greeted the 40 participating students and postdocs with a morning agenda devoted to ten “research vignettes.”

April in Chicago: After a warm welcome from Argonne research staff, members of three visiting SIAM student chapters learned about ongoing research projects in applied math/computational science before touring two high-profile research facilities at the lab. Later in the month, the three chapters ran the first-ever Chicago-area SIAM Student Conference. Photo by Andjelka Herman.

“We chose these brief presentations to give young scholars a flavor of the problems we are investigating—from new analytical and numerical methods, to cutting-edge software, to practical applications,” said Stefan Wild, an MCS computational mathematician and co-organizer of the visit. The topics presented were as follows:

  • Scalable power grid dynamics simulation (Shrirang Abhyankar)
  • Data science for scientific computing: Learning and intelligent optimization (Prasanna Balaprakash) 
  • Parallel multigrid solvers (Jed Brown)
  • Large-scale Gaussian process calculation without matrix factorizations (Jie Chen)
  • Scaling computational fluid dynamics beyond a million cores (Paul Fischer)
  • High-resolution, non-oscillatory schemes for hyperbolic PDEs (Debo Ghosh) 
  • PDE-constrained optimization under uncertainty (Drew Kouri)
  • Algorithmic differentiation (Sri Hari Krishna Narayanan)
  • Phase-field modeling for heterogeneous materials (Lei Wang)
  • Stochastic optimization for complex network systems (Victor Zavala).

The students appreciated the carefully crafted introduction to MCS research. This was the first visit to Argonne for a number of the Northwestern students, said NU–SIAM president Thomas Wytock. “They jumped at the opportunity to explore the research opportunities offered there.”

Xuan Zhou, president of the SIAM chapter at the Illinois Institute of Technology, found in the ten morning presentations an introduction to “exciting projects which applied mathematics to real world problems.”

At lunchtime, the students divided into groups based on their research interests—including optimization, linear algebra, and PDEs. Over lunch, the Argonne researchers gave the students a more personal view of life at the lab, and the visitors had the chance to learn about career opportunities and projects, as well as new research directions in applied mathematics and computational science.

The afternoon featured tours of two research facilities at the laboratory: the Advanced Photon Source and the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, home to several of the fastest supercomputers in the world.

“The Advanced Photon Source was amazing,” Zhou said. “Seeing the most advanced technology with my own eyes was completely different from watching it on TV. And what can I say about the Blue Gene? The entire building was built for the supercomputer, and the power to keep it running alone cost 1 million dollars each year.” 

“A personal highlight for me,” Wytock said, “was the tour of the Advanced Photon Source. Being able to see a world-class facility up-close and in action was exciting. I enjoyed learning about how the synchrotron accelerator functioned.”

Concluding the visit, Sven Leyffer, SIAM vice president for programs and Argonne senior computational mathematician, emphasized the important role students play in SIAM. In addition to student activities like the Argonne visit, he said, SIAM supports career fairs and travel to a range of conferences. (For an update on SIAM Student Travel Awards, see "A Second Doubling for SIAM's Student Travel Fund.")

Leyffer encouraged the students to apply for internships at Argonne, pointing to Argonne’s recent designation in an annual survey by The Scientist as one of the top five “best places for postdocs to work.”

Noting that the visiting students represented three local chapters—the University of Illinois at Chicago, in addition to IIT and Northwestern—Leyffer looked ahead to the 2014 SIAM Annual Meeting, which will be held in Chicago. “We hope that your chapters will join Argonne in providing lively input to the meeting.”

Gail Pieper is the MCS coordinator of writing and editing at Argonne National Laboratory.

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