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Ten PhD students from across the country selected as Blue Waters Graduate Fellows

Ten outstanding computational science PhD students from across the country have been selected to receive Blue Waters Graduate Fellowships for 2016-2017. The fellowship program, now in its third year, provides substantial support and the opportunity to leverage the petascale power of National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois’s Blue Waters supercomputer to advance their research. The awards are made to outstanding PhD graduate students who have decided to incorporate high performance computing and data analysis into their research.

“This highly competitive program is a great way for new researchers to explore complex scientific problems they may not otherwise be able to incorporate into their research. Access to funding, Blue Waters, and point of contact expertise will provide these fellows with the opportunity to accelerate their investigations and expand their research goals. Who knows, maybe they will even graduate sooner,” says Bill Kramer, Blue Waters director. “The Blue Waters Graduate Fellowship program has proven to be extremely valuable to the previous two cohorts of fellows and I am excited to see what this third cohort will accomplish.”

Feedback about the fellowship program has been extremely positive from current and past students and their advisors. One advisor of a 2015/2016 graduate fellow stated, “[we’re] able to go in a very different direction now because it’s almost unprecedented to run the kind of biogeochemical model that we want to run at this resolution. That’s going to turn out to provide the dataset that other researchers will use.” According to one of the fellows in the current (second) cohort, the fellowship and access to Blue Waters is “definitely letting me tackle science questions that I couldn’t if I didn’t have this fellowship.”

Since its inception, the fellowship program has been tracked and assessed by an independent evaluation team lead by Lizanne DeStefano the Executive Director at Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing. According to Dr. DeStefano, “the impact data suggest that the Blue Waters Fellows program is transformational, producing a new generation of scientists who are experts in both their discipline and in the use of high performance computing. Their research not only offers significant contributions to the disciplinary knowledge base, but produces computational tools which elevate the research capacity of the files as a whole.”

The 2016-2017 fellows

  • Elizabeth Agee, University of Michigan, will examine the contributions of species-specific strategies to individual and community drought resilience in the Amazon Basin region.
  • Iryna Butsky, University of Washington, plans to study the effects of cosmic rays on the galactic magnetic field evolution.
  • August Guang, Brown University, will characterize HIV transmission networks through sensitivity analyses and simulations.
  • Paul Hime, University of Kentucky, will investigate the deep branches in the tree of life with highly complex and highly parameterized Bayesian models of molecular evolution.
  • Michael Howard, Princeton University, will develop a massively parallel multi-scale simulation method for designing complex fluids, like those in biomedical devices and consumer products, using graphics processing units.
  • Andrew Kirby, University of Wyoming, will use a state-of-the-art, adaptive, high-order application called WwAaKE3D to simulate the most accurate calculations of wind farms to date.
  • Sherwood Richers, California Institute of Technology, will use Blue Waters to carry out direct Monte Carlo simulations of the neutrino transport problems in 3-D core collapse supernova and neutron star merger simulations.
  • Sean Seyler, Arizona State University, will develop a hybrid continuum-particle method for simulating large-scale heterogeneous biomolecular systems.
  • Ronald Stenz, University of North Dakota, will study how to improve the realism of tornado simulations and provide further insights into the dynamical processes occurring within tornadoes.
  • Erin Teich, University of Michigan, will work to shed light on the physics of glass formation by examining the role that entropy plays during vitrification.

The fellows will receive a year of support to advance their research, including a tuition allowance and a substantial stipend, an allocation on Blue Waters, and funds to support travel to the annual Blue Waters Symposium. In three years, this fellowship program will have awarded more than $1.3 million and over 50 million core equivalent hours to support graduate research.

Blue Waters is one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, and is the fastest supercomputer on a university campus, with more aggregate memory and data capabilities than any other openly available resource. Scientists and engineers across the country use the computing and data power of Blue Waters to tackle a wide range of challenging problems, from predicting the behavior of complex biological systems to simulating the evolution of the cosmos. Blue Waters is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois.

The next call for applications for the Blue Waters Graduate Fellowship program will be in the fall of 2016. For more information about the program and the current fellows, visit

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