Blue Waters Graduate Fellow: Andrew Kirby

12.13.16 -

The Blue Waters Graduate Fellowship was awarded to ten outstanding Ph.D. students in computational science. In this series we're featuring brief introductions to who they are and what they're trying to accomplish. This program serves to prepare the next generation of science researchers to solve the world’s problems. Follow along as we highlight these young researchers. Read more profiles here.

Tell me a little bit about yourself—where are you studying now, where did you do your undergrad, what was your major, etc.

I am studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Wyoming. I research numerical methods for computational fluid dynamics (CFD). Prior to this, I completed my Master of Science degree in Applied Mathematics at Columbia University and my Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Tell me about your research—what are you trying/ hoping to accomplish? What made you want to pursue this topic?

My research is in the field of CFD. Specifically, I develop numerical solvers for the Navier-Stokes equations which govern fluid dynamics. I apply these methods that I develop to applications in wind energy and aerospace. We hope to simulate entire wind farm systems to determine properties such as power and thrust of the wind turbines and how their interactions interplay with each other.

Several reasons why I got into CFD: As an undergrad, I took several programming classes (along with lots of math), which is a major pillar of applied and computational mathematics. I really liked taking these two things and joining them. Developing CFD methods takes some advanced mathematics and combines them with computer science (and high performance computing). My degrees in math and applied math really help with the physics and mathematics of understanding the fluid equations. CFD also allows you to visualize your results. It gives a nice feedback loop on seeing you results (that are usually really cool to look at too). Lately, I have been really interested in the high performance computing aspect as well. I really enjoy trying to write really fast and efficient code that runs on the largest supercomputers in the world.

So what was your process like getting involved with Blue Waters? What made you want to apply for this fellowship?

I thought this fellowship would serve my purposes for my research really well:

  1. Being able to run on one of the largest supercomputers in the world
  2. Support (technical and non-technical)
  3. Open the door to more opportunities down the road
  4. And, of course, the financial support is really nice since it gives me my own funding (which helps our research group financially in general) and a pay raise

How will the ability to use Blue Waters impact your research?

The size of the Blue Waters supercomputer will serve as a major support to my research. My work involves simulating wind farms, which has very large scales temporally and spatially. This will give us the ability to go larger and obtain more accurate results than what has previously been done.

Would you have been able to do this kind of research on any other machine? Why or why not?

Not necessarily for the size we would like to simulate. The computer we have now has 72,000 processors. Blue Waters has roughly 400,000. We are no longer limited to the previous number.

Additionally, we are hoping to write code for GPUs. Blue Waters is one of the largest GPU machines. Thus we can really get to develop and experiment on a real production machine.

What is the overall impact that your research will have on the science community and the world at large?

With the results obtained on the Blue Waters supercomputer, we will be able not only to provide the most accurate wind farm simulations to date but those results will be used by others to improve lower-fidelity models to be able to more accurately simulate at lower computational cost. From there, we can simulate large systems and improve engineering design leading to lower costs for green energy and thus helping the transition from traditional fossil fuels to alternative green fuels.

Is there anything else you'd like people to know about your research/fellowship?

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to showcase my research that is being done at the University of Wyoming. I hope I can make a significant contribution to my field of research that leads to new technologies.

National Science Foundation

Blue Waters is supported by the National Science Foundation through awards ACI-0725070 and ACI-1238993.