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Two NCSA affiliates receive NSF CAREER Awards

URBANA, IL – Kaiyu Guan and Mattia Gazzola, both Blue Waters professors at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), have been announced as recipients of the National Science Foundation’s annual CAREER awards, allowing them to dive even deeper into the world of computation in agriculture and fluid dynamics, respectively.

A hallmark achievement for young researchers, the CAREER award is described by the NSF as “a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.”

Kaiyu Guan, a Blue Waters Professor at NCSA and an Assistant Professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) in the University of Illinois’ Colege of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), has used the Blue Waters system at NCSA to process satellite crop data, allowing unprecedented predictions of large-scale crop yield

“I am very honored to be awarded the NSF CAREER Award. This award not only provides encouragements on the work that I’ve been doing, but also offers generous resources to realize more ambitious goals in my research, which is to model every individual field for its crop growth, water use, and nutrient cycles for the whole Corn Belt,” said Guan. “I am grateful for all the supports that NCSA provides, especially the Blue Waters and Blue Waters’s team. Without them, nothing would be possible.”

By using supercomputers to comb through massive amounts of satellite image data, Guan and his team are able to make predictions that are relevant to a handful of national interests, from the agricultural economy to food security. Through this CAREER award, Guan will receive an additional five years of funding valued at $510,000.

Mattia Gazzola, a Blue Waters Professor at NCSA and an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois, also received a CAREER Award from the NSF for his work to model “streaming” flows around small complex geometries and, eventually, miniaturized robots.

Streaming is a phenomenon in which an object that oscillates with the right frequency in a fluid can generate stable and predictable flow structures. These can then be used in microfluidics to manipulate the surrounding environment for drug delivery, micromixing or particle separation.

“We’re not experimentalists; we are simulation and modeling people. It’s possible to build some of these minuscule machines, but it’s very hard to design them. We want to be able to model and simulate them so we can do the entire design computationally, and then you can build them and spare a ton of time.”

Though using a tiny robot to deliver particles in the human body for medical reasons may be far from mainstream, Gazzola’s work has, and will continue to, lay the necessary groundwork for groundbreaking medical applications and fundamental flow topology.

“Medicine is a large application of this research in the future, but there are other applications in microfluidics. If we can understand how geometry affects flow topology and streaming fields, you can imagine doing more efficient particle separation or micro-mixing, for example. This CAREER is really looking at some of these new phenomena that you can leverage with streaming, so it’s not necessarily targeted to an explicit application. It’s more fundamental.”

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