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Five PhD Students Named New Frontiers Graduate Fellows

Blue Waters Supercomputer

The New Frontiers Initiative, in collaboration with the Blue Waters Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is pleased to announce the selection of the 2021 New Frontiers Graduate Fellows. The Graduate Fellowship program was launched in the fall of 2013 to provide PhD students with a year of support to advance their research. The program provides each Fellow with a $38,000 stipend, up to $12,000 in tuition allowance, an allocation on the powerful Blue Waters petascale computing system, and funds to support travel to related meetings and conferences.

A rigorous review process was conducted for the applicants to the 2021–2022 program to select five individuals from the talented candidates spanning multiple institutions and diverse fields of study. We are pleased to announce that the following students have been selected as the New Frontiers Graduate Fellows during 2021–2022.

  • Rachel Flood Heaton from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is in the field of cognitive psychology and will be conducting research on a computational model of human visual reasoning.
  • Lucas Ford from North Carolina State University is in the field of civil engineering and will be conducting research on generalized reservoir operations to improve streamflow forecasting using land surface models over the continental United States.
  • Dale Forrister from the University of Utah is in the field of tropical ecology and will conduct research on using drone imagery to study the phenology of tropical rainforests.
  • Deanna Nash from the University of California at Santa Barbara is in the field of atmospheric science and will be conducting research on water resources and hazards of High Mountain Asia’s atmospheric rivers.
  • Adam Stewart from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is in the field of computer science and will be developing the TorchGeo library to bring the convenience of torchvision to the geospatial data domain.

The Fellows will begin their year of research in the fall of 2021, and will be invited to share their research findings at a conference in 2022. Additional information about the program and the Fellow can be found here.


The New Frontiers Initiative works with the intelligence community and other security and safety-focused government, educational, and business partners, to pursue projects and agency relationships to expand Illinois’ activities and contributions to national security and safety. NFI is an outgrowth and expansion of the University’s very successful, decade-long Blue Waters Project at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and leverages campus strengths in computation, simulation, data science, machine learning, engineering/science/agriculture, cyber protection, and other areas.


Blue Waters is one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. Located at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, it can complete more than 1 quadrillion calculations per second on a sustained basis and more than 13 times that at peak speed. Blue Waters is supported by the National Science Foundation (awards OCI-0725070 and ACI-1238993) the State of Illinois, and as of December 2019, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Blue Waters is a joint effort of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and its National Center for Supercomputing Applications. NCSA manages the Blue Waters project and provides expertise to help scientists and engineers take full advantage of the system for their research.

Blue Waters is supported by the National Science Foundation through awards OCI-0725070 and ACI-1238993.


The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois 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 these resources to address research challenges for the benefit of science and society. NCSA has been advancing many of the world’s industry giants for over 35 years by bringing industry, researchers and students together to solve grand challenges at rapid speed and scale.

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