Computing Faculty Members and Students Contribute to Research at National Labs on Climate Change Accuracy and Supercomputer Modeling
October 21, 2022
Christian Trefftz, professor of computing, and Elise Dettling, one of the undergraduate students spent the summer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The Sustainable Horizons Institute, which promotes diversity within STEM, supported their proposal for the 10-week internship.
At Oak Ridge, Dettling and Trefftz worked in William Godoy's lab, performing experiments on new computer languages that will eventually be used for the DOE's Exascale Computing Project, a supercomputer with implications for advancing precision medicine, regional climate, additive manufacturing, the conversion of plants to biofuels and more.
Dettling, a senior mathematics major, said the first two weeks at Oak Ridge were spent in a classroom learning the concepts related to high-performance computing. "It was a beautiful introduction to high-performance computing," Dettling said. "I was then able to jump right in. My Grand Valley education gave me the foundation and the skills that led to my success at Oak Ridge."
Marc Tunnell, a double major in computer science and mathematics, spent the summer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He worked in Darren Engwirda's lab on developing mesh optimization software for the Perlmutter supercomputer that will increase the accuracy of predicting large-scale weather events. "It was really an environment where you were allowed to fail," Tunnell said. "There were lots of dead ends on projects but that was to be expected. We were encouraged to try things." The team built a model program that worked well by the end of the summer, he added.
Michelle Dowling, assistant professor of computing, worked remotely over the summer with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory under its visiting faculty program. Dowling initiated a new research collaboration between PNNL and Grand Valley that will begin in the Winter semester and involve students.
The project centers on user studies to determine the effectiveness of PNNL's new system in helping data analysts understand their data. Dowling said the PNNL experience will lend to real-world situations in two of her computer science courses. “Questions analysts have about their data must be clearly and precisely defined or else you risk misunderstanding the question and not helping them properly," she said. "Clearly and precisely defining a question requires very different thinking than what most students in the class are used to, so having these experiences to draw from will be immensely helpful in motivating these topics in the classroom.”
Trefftz was also grateful for his experience at Oak Ridge and said the group, including Dettling, will present their findings at a conference in January. "It's amazing that these national labs are carrying out the research that is being done at the country's top universities," Trefftz said. "This expands the opportunities for our faculty researchers."