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UW Student Wins Prestigious Blue Waters Graduate Fellowship

April 19, 2016
man sitting by computer
Andrew Kirby, a doctoral candidate in the UW Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been awarded a 2016-17 Blue Waters Graduate Fellowship. Each year, only 10 such competitive fellowships are awarded nationally. (UW Photo)

A University of Wyoming graduate student will have the opportunity to use one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers to research wind farm simulations.

Andrew Kirby, a doctoral candidate in the UW Department of Mechanical Engineering tutored by Dimitri Mavriplis, a UW professor of mechanical engineering, has been awarded a 2016-17 Blue Waters Graduate Fellowship. Each year, only 10 such fellowships are awarded nationally on a competitive basis.

Blue Waters Graduate Fellowships provide doctoral students with a year of support, including a $38,000 stipend; up to $12,000 in tuition allowance; an allocation of up to 50,000 node-hours on the powerful Blue Waters peta-scale computing system; and funds to travel to a Blue Waters-sponsored symposium to present research progress and results.

Kirby says 10 fellows were chosen from 100 applicants who had to meet certain criteria.

“This is for doctoral students who’ve gone through all of their coursework. You’re on your dissertation work,” says Kirby, originally from Eau Claire, Wis. “So, you have a clear path of what you need to do to finish your Ph.D., and the Blue Waters Fellowship provides the resources to help finish your dissertation research.”

Blue Waters, supported by the National Science Foundation and located at the University of Illinois, is the fastest supercomputer at a university anywhere in the world. The supercomputer can complete more than 1 quadrillion calculations per second on a sustained basis and more than 13 times at peak speed, nine times faster than Yellowstone, the supercomputer in Cheyenne, Kirby says.

The University of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications manages the Blue Waters project and provides expertise to help scientists and engineers take full advantage of the system for their research.

For the fellowships, preference is given to candidates engaged in multidisciplinary research projects that combine disciplines such as computer science, applied mathematics and computational science applications. Applicants should be in the second or later year of their graduate programs with well-developed, related research proposals.

Kirby researches high-order computational fluid dynamics methods for large-scale problems. He is now working to enable finite element methods for wind farm simulations. His research involves applied mathematics, computer science and engineering with applications to the wind energy and aerospace industries.

“What we’re trying to do, in part, in our lab is simulate wind farms. The goal of the project is to do full wind farm simulations, while capturing the aerodynamics around the blade,” Kirby explains. “A lot of other researchers look at the wind farm, but they don’t look at the blade aerodynamics. We want to have a better idea of what comes out of a wind farm.”

Kirby received his master’s degree in applied mathematics at Columbia University and his bachelor’s degree in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Beginning in fall 2007, he spent the first 2 1/2 years of his undergraduate years at UW.

“As a kid, my best friend’s parents had a cabin in Centennial. We used to come out in the summers,” Kirby says. “I wanted to go to a school with chemical engineering. I wanted to go to UW. I convinced three of my friends to come, too.”

Kirby has come full-circle, returning to UW for his Ph.D. Access to Yellowstone, the nickname for the supercomputer at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center, played a key role in his decision.

After he graduates in 2017, Kirby says, “Eventually, I hope I can work with a research team doing computational fluid dynamics and high-performance computing, whether it is in industry or academia. I guess we’ll see.”


Hear researcher Andrew Kirby discuss the computational capabilities of the powerful Blue Waters supercomputer.Hear researcher Andrew Kirby discuss the computational capabilities of the powerful Blue Waters supercomputer.

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