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

Incorporating high performance computing and data analysis to advance their research has big rewards for 10 PhD students from across the country. The students were named recipients of the Blue Waters Graduate Fellowships for 2017-2018, coming out on top in a very competitive selection process. Blue Waters is the leadership computing project funded by the National Science Foundation at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Now in its fourth year, the Blue Waters Fellowship Program provides students in a variety of disciplines substantial financial support and the opportunity to advance their research that involves high performance computing by leveraging the sustained petascale performance of the Blue Waters supercomputer. The fellows receive a tuition allowance in addition to a stipend (totaling approximately $50,000 a year), a large allocation of time on Blue Waters, becoming part of a mentoring program that involves Blue Waters’ computational experts helping the students, and funds to support travel to the annual Blue Waters Symposium and other activities. Since its inception four years ago, this fellowship program has awarded more than $1.8 million and over 57 million core equivalent hours to support the graduate fellow program.

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 computation and data analytical 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 to designing new engines.

“The Blue Waters Fellowship program is one of the unique intellectual service and workforce development activities within the Blue Waters project. This program gives multi-faceted support to aspiring and innovative young researchers to explore complex scientific problems at a scale that they may not otherwise be able to achieve. Access to funding, to the Blue Waters supercomputer, and to the expertise of the Blue Waters professional staff provide these fellows with the opportunity to accelerate their investigations and expand their research goals. Our experience with the past cadre of fellows is that these students achieve significant accomplishments that often are well beyond what they and their advisors planned for the research program without the Fellowship program.” says Bill Kramer, Blue Waters project director and Principal Investigator at NCSA. “The Blue Waters Graduate Fellowship program has proven to be extremely valuable to the previous three cohorts of fellows and I am excited to see what this fourth cohort will accomplish.”

Feedback about the fellowship program has been extremely positive from current and past students and their advisors. One advisor of a graduate fellow stated, “it was a great opportunity for my student, and the computational resources and help provided were excellent. It made a positive difference in the research accomplished.” According to one of the past fellows, “the fellowship and Blue Waters definitely changed my future plans and allowed me to gain valuable experience using petascale HPC resources. In addition to enabling high-level computational research, I think the Blue Waters fellowship helped me become more confident in my ability to perform research and it gave me the freedom to pursue ideas that I had.”

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 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 2017-2018 Fellows

  • Matthew Clement, University of Oklahoma, will study the influence of dynamic instabilities on terrestrial planetary formation in our solar system.
  • Salme Cook, University of New Hampshire, will be using high-resolution ocean models to determine the importance of wind-wave induced sediment transport in estuaries and their resulting nutrient fluxes.
  • Evan Feinberg, Stanford University, will be harnessing the power of Blue Waters, especially its GPU nodes, to learn more about the structural biology of G Protein Coupled Receptors (GPCRs) and enrich the search for new therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease and chronic pain.
  • Lauren Foster, Colorado School of Mines, will be using a hyper-resolution integrated model to study the effects of snowmelt-dominated headwaters in the Rocky Mountains.
  • Zachary Goldsmith, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will be studying electronic structure and operando spectroscopic characterization of active sites in oxygen-evolving catalyst NiFe oxyhydroxide. NiFe oxyhydroxide is a highly active electrocatalyst for the oxygen evolution reaction, a crucial process for carbon-neutral energy storage.
  • Jennifer Hays, University of Virginia, will be incorporating experimental restraints into parallel ensemble simulation to refine the conformations of flexible proteins.
  • Ethan Kruse, University of Washington, will be using Blue Waters to search for exoplanets in the data gathered by NASA’s K2 telescope.
  • Rachel Kurchin, MIT, plans to use Blue Waters to develop general criteria for designing defect tolerant materials for semiconductors.
  • Rachael Mansbach, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will be using Blue Waters to perform a multiscale computational investigation to understand and design a family of self-assembling peptides with tunable optoelectronic responses.
  • William Payne, University of Nebraska Medical Center, will be using Blue Waters to develop a library of computational models for amphiphilic polysaccharide nanoparticles, with the ultimate goal aiding in the formulation of an anticancer chemotherapeutic.

The next call for applications for the Blue Waters Graduate Fellowship program will be in the fall of 2017. For more information about the program and the current fellows, visit

About the National Center for Supercomputing Applications

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 NCSA’s Blue Waters project

The Blue Waters petascale supercomputer is one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, and is the fastest 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 rst 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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