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NFI Selects 2023-24 New Frontiers Graduate Fellows

Cyber security technology background with data protection shield icon in blue tone

The New Frontiers Initiative (NFI) announced two new recipients for its New Frontiers Graduate Fellowships which begin this month.

Veronica Diaz-Pacheco of North Carolina State University and Vlas Zyrianov of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have been selected to join the 2023-24 NFI fellowship cohort, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. The fellowship provides doctoral students with a year of full-time research support, including a $38,000 stipend, up to $12,000 in tuition allowance and an allocation of time on The National Center for Supercomputing ApplicationsDelta and Hydro computing systems.

The two NFI fellowship recipients continue the trend established by the earlier cadres of Blue Waters graduate fellowship recipients of being highly motivated, working on challenging topics that have strong societal impact and will benefit from the access to resources and expertise provided by the fellowship opportunity.

Greg Bauer, NCSA Technical Assistant Director

Diaz-Pacheco will use the fellowship resources to study the extent to which the integration of information, communication and sensing technologies into the United States power grid infrastructure will increase the risk of disruptions to power generation and transmission. Toward this effort, her work will study the resilience of the U.S. bulk electric power grid to cyberattacks. More specifically, using a bi-level optimization model, Diaz-Pacheco aims to identify the sets of cyberattacks whose impacts result in worst-case scenario losses of service in terms of increases in operating costs and potential for load-shedding. The results will help gain insight to improve risk management decision-making and design power systems robust against the growing threat of cyberattacks.

Veronica Diaz-Pacheco from North Carolina State University.

“Because of the large-scale nature of this problem, we want to develop an efficient method to answer the research questions in reasonable time. In the long term, we hope to use the framework to analyze how a shift to renewable energy (distributed generation) will impact the grid’s vulnerabilities,” said Diaz-Pacheco. “I feel very excited about this opportunity. It will entail performing applied work in my chosen field of study and a particular area of interest. I feel grateful to be able to submerge myself in an experience like this one. And I can’t wait to get started with my research project.”

Zyrianov, a Computer Science student in The Grainger College of Engineering, will tackle the costly and time-consuming issue of creating realistic simulations to test autonomous systems – such as self-driving vehicles – which often require manually designing evaluations with large amounts of detailed 3D models and environments. Utilizing computation resources at NCSA, Zyrianov plans to train an improved generative model on readily available Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data that will spawn scans of 3D environments with realistic layouts and cars. He will investigate the potential applications that such a model can bring, such as training safer and more reliable autonomous vehicles in an asset-free simulator, efficiently storing a highly detailed 3D model of our world, localization tasks, and more.

Vlas Zyrianov from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“I am thrilled to receive the New Frontiers Fellowship award. Generative modeling is a cutting-edge and computationally intensive machine-learning method. This fellowship provides access to NCSA’s state-of-the-art GPU supercomputers which will make it possible to push our trained model’s performance to the limit,” Zyrianov said.

Part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, NFI works with the national intelligence community and other security and prepardedness-focused government, educational and business partners to pursue projects and agency relationships to expand Illinois’ activities and contributions to national security and preparedness. NFI is an outgrowth and expansion of the university’s very successful, decade-long Blue Waters project at NCSA and leverages campus strengths in computation, simulation, data science, engineering, science, agriculture, cyber protection and other areas.

Dr. William Kramer, executive director of the New Frontiers Initiative and the Blue Waters Project Office, launched the fellowship program in 2014, which has supported the computational and data analytics research goals of more than 55 doctoral candidates. 

Based on the feedback we’ve received from the fellows, they have been tremendously successful in leveraging their fellowships to advance their research, education and professional careers. While access to advanced computational resources has been cited as very beneficial, our commitment to providing a primary point of contact for each fellow has been identified by the fellows as instrumental to their success.

Dr. William Kramer, Executive Director of NFI and Blue Waters Project Office

Read more about the impact of the Blue Waters and NFI fellowship programs in the Journal of Computational Science Education.

This research is part of the Blue Waters sustained-petascale computing project, which 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 Urbana-Champaign and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

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