NCSA intern receives highest honor from Illinois College of Engineering

02.08.18 -

NCSA intern Daniel Johnson, a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign double majoring in Engineering Physics and Computer Science (Engineering), has just been named a Knight of St. Patrick, one of the highest honors one can receive from the College of Engineering at Illinois.

The Knights of St. Patrick award began at 1903 at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Students at this University claimed only an engineer could have accomplished such a great feat as driving the snakes from Ireland, and so, St. Patrick must have been an engineer. St. Patrick's Day was declared a day to celebrate engineering and St. Patrick became a symbol of honor and achievement among engineering students.

In 1950, this tradition found its way to the University of Illinois. The annual award is presented by the College of Engineering to approximately 8-15 people who represent leadership, excellence in character, and exceptional contribution to the College of Engineering and its students. View the full list of past awardees.

Johnson's academic accomplishments throughout his time at Illinois certainly demonstrate that he's a deserving recipient of this honor. As a SPIN (Students Pushing INnovation) intern based with NCSA's Gravity Group, Johnson has made several significant contributions. He developed open source software to monitor and post-process large numerical relativity catalogs in HPC environments, with the aim of streamlining the validation of new gravitational wave discoveries with the LIGO and Virgo detectors. Johnson published this research, titled "Python Open Source Waveform Extractor (POWER): An open source, Python package to monitor and post-process numerical relativity simulations," as a first author in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity. Johnson has co-authored another article with the NCSA Gravity Group, published in Physical Review D, which presents a state-of-the-art waveform model that describes the gravitational wave emission of binary black holes formed in dense stellar environments. Read more about Johnson's work with NCSA.

"It has been a very productive and rewarding experience to work with Daniel. The SPIN program gave him an opportunity to make significant contributions in gravitational wave astrophysics, and he made the most of it, exhibiting great promise as a young researcher. We have a few more exciting projects to wrap up before he moves to his favorite choice for grad school. We wish him every success in that new chapter," noted Eliu Huerta, NCSA Gravity Group Lead.

Johnson's other primary research endeavor under Dr. Daniel Andruczyk involves creating a control system for the Hybrid Illinois Device for Research and Applications (HIDRA). HIDRA is a research device housed at the Center for Plasma-Material Interactions here at Illinois which is used for plasma and fusion research. Findings from this research have just been accepted for publication in Fusion Engineering and Design under the title "HIDRA Control System (HCS): A LabVIEW-based program to control the Hybrid Illinois Device for Research and Applications." Johnson will be listed as first-author.

However, Johnson's undergraduate career has been full of many other diverse experiences beyond research, including involvement in different mentoring and teaching programs, such as the computer science department's Sail program. He also devoted many hours to volunteering both on and around campus, and served as the treasurer of the Volunteer Illini Projects student organization.

"Winning this award means a lot to me," Johnson said. "It was something that I knew about since my sophomore year because I knew one of the award-winners from 2016, but I never thought I would be a part of it. It means to me that the College of Engineering has seen and appreciates the work that I have done for it."

But this is only the beginning for Johnson. Next August, he plans to begin his Ph.D. So far, he's been accepted to Stanford University's Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering, UC Berkeley's Computer Science program, the Illinois Computer Science program, UC San Diego Physics program, and Michigan State's Computational Mathematics, Science and Engineering program, but he’s still waiting to hear back from a few other schools. No matter which program he chooses, we're sure Johnson will continue his successful career. Congrats, Dan!