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NCSA Student Spotlight: Adam Rebei

Adam Rebei, a senior at University Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois, says he was always interested in astronomy. It was when he took an astronomy course at the University of Illinois through his school’s concurrent enrollment program, however, that his interest in astronomy launched into an education path that led to him using the NVIDIA GPU accelerated Blue Waters supercomputer at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).

“During my eighth grade year at Uni High, we took a trip to the conservatory on campus, for extra credit, and I remember looking through the telescope and seeing various objects in the sky… that was my first interaction with astronomy,” said Rebei. “I then took Astronomy 100 at the University of Illinois, and began learning about all these crazy things happening in space. I wanted to know more, understand more, and learn how to model what I was seeing.”

Rebei pursued astronomy further, joining his school’s Astronomy Olympiad during his sophomore year (2017), and looking into joining research groups on campus later that summer. There, he met Vlad Kindratenko, who led him to research scientist Eliu Huerta at NCSA and leader of the NCSA Gravity Group.

“Adam started in our group by giving talks in our weekly meetings about the history of general relativity and gravitational waves. Soon, though, I realized that he had the skills and determination to do research at the level of a graduate student. He has since participated in multiple publications that have enabled him to learn about how to combine high performance computing, numerical relativity, and deep learning to advance our knowledge in gravitational wave astrophysics,” Huerta said.

“My first impression of the Gravity Group was something I had never experienced before. It’s a large group of graduates, undergraduates, postdoctoral students, and researchers of all ages. Everyone is so passionate about what they are doing, and I am so excited to be a part of that,” Rebei said.

Two years into working with Huerta and the Gravity Group at NCSA, Rebei has learned how to submit jobs on the Blue Waters supercomputer, analyze results, and run simulations of colliding black holes. Rebei first used Blue Waters at age 15, before he could legally drive.

NCSA catalog of numerical relativity waveforms that describe the gravitational wave emission of black holes that collide in dense stellar environments.

“My first time using Blue Waters, we did a tour first and got to see the computer, which is a very amazing thing because it’s a very powerful machine,” said Rebei, “and I just remember thinking, ‘All of the GPUs!’ It’s an insane amount of GPUs, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

With Huerta’s guidance, Rebei has continued to learn more about supercomputers and gravitational wave research. “For me, it’s crazy that I’m even able to have access to these kinds of resources. If it wasn’t for Dr. Huerta, I don’t know how many people would have that kind of trust or faith in me to use a supercomputer.”

Additionally, Rebei has worked with the group in more hands-on ways, like running numerical relativity simulations with the Einstein Toolkit on the Blue Waters supercomputer to study the physics of eccentric black hole mergers, and to post-process these simulations, extracting waveform signals similar to those that LIGO is now routinely observing. While the first generation of deep learning algorithms for gravitational wave astrophysics presented by the NCSA Gravity Group (George & Huerta, Phys. Rev. D 97, 044039 (2018); George & Huerta, Physics Letters B, 778 (2018) 64-70) were trained in ten hours using a single NVIDIA Tesla P100 GPU, Adam’s neural network models were trained within thirty minutes using 64 NVIDIA GPUs on Blue Waters using the distributed training framework Horovod.

This video shows the importance of using numerical relativity waveforms to accurately characterize the gravitational waves emitted by black holes that merge on elliptical orbits.

“I’ve considered myself very lucky to have this experience. My high school was very encouraging to me to interact with research groups,” said Rebei, “I really don’t think this experience would be possible anywhere else.”

“The NCSA Gravity Group is a niche to support and nurture the next generation of scientists, and leaders in industry and technology. Adam thrived in our science and educational program, sharpening his talents and skills to a degree that continues to amaze me. His research and scholarship have been richly rewarded, which reflect well on the work we do at NCSA,” said Huerta.

Adam is winding down his senior year at University High. Before graduation, he will have experienced what it means to give a contributed talk at the 2018 APS April Meeting, and at the Astrophysics, Gravitation, and Cosmology Seminar at the Physics Department at Illinois. He has also co-authored three publications (Phys. Rev. D 97, 024031 and, one of them as a lead author ( He is gearing up to study astrophysics or physics at Princeton in the fall. His dream job is to be a college professor and scientific researcher. Why? “I get to share knowledge while getting to continue to learn myself—that would be pretty awesome,” Rebei said.

About NCSA

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides supercomputing and advanced digital resources for the nation’s science enterprise. At NCSA, University of Illinois faculty, staff, students, and collaborators from around the globe use advanced digital resources to address research grand challenges for the benefit of science and society. NCSA has been advancing one third of the Fortune 50® for more than 30 years by bringing industry, researchers, and students together to solve grand challenges at rapid speed and scale.

About Blue Waters

The Blue Waters petascale supercomputer is one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, and is the fastest sustained supercomputer on a university campus. Blue Waters uses hundreds of thousands of computational cores to achieve peak performance of more than 13 quadrillion calculations per second. Blue Waters has more memory and faster data storage than any other open system in the world. Scientists and engineers across the country use the computing and data power of Blue Waters to tackle a wide range of challenges. Recent advances that were not possible without these resources include computationally designing the first set of antibody prototypes to detect the Ebola virus, simulating the HIV capsid, visualizing the formation of the first galaxies and exploding stars, and understanding how the layout of a city can impact supercell thunderstorms.

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