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Article | Mathematics and Computer Science

Chicago-area students tour Argonne facilities

More than 50 students visited Argonne National Laboratory in October 2023 to learn about career possibilities and to tour the state-of-the-art facilities at the laboratory.

The students were from Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Loyola University, Illinois State University and the College of DuPage.

The applied mathematics open day” was hosted by Argonne’s Mathematics and Computer Science (MCS) division. The morning included short talks presented by MCS division staff:

  • Misun Min (a computational mathematician) discussed high-order spectral element algorithms and software development for several application areas, including wind energy and nuclear reactor analysis. She also gave a brief introduction on GPU-based pre-exascale and exascale systems on which she and her colleagues conduct performance runs.
  • Tyler Chang (a postdoctoral appointee) talked about the curse of dimensionality, explaining why many of the science problems that we work on are mathematically and computationally challenging and what students can do to get started applying what they know to address these issues.
  • Vishwas Rao (assistant computational mathematician) spoke about data assimilation and the various tools needed, including PDE discretization, numerical linear algebra, optimization, and statistics, and the enormous number of observations required that make access to the computing resources and applied math expertise at national labs essential.

We chose these talks to give the young students a taste of the exciting problems we are exploring – from fluid flow in nuclear reactors to new algorithms and optimization software to methods for real-world applications such as drought prediction,” said Sven Leyffer, senior computational mathematician in the MCS division and organizer of the visit.

Lunch gave the student time to ask the staff about emerging areas, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence – and to enjoy a delicious gluten-free pizza.

Highlighting the afternoon were tours of five forefront research facilities:

  • Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator, serving as the prime national facility for nuclear structure research
  • Materials Engineering Research Facility, applying modeling and simulation for science-based scale-up of newly invented experimental materials and chemicals
  • Advanced Photon Source, providing ultrabright X-rays used by more than 5,500 scientists each year to create stronger materials, build more efficient batteries and help develop vaccines and treatments for infectious diseases
  • Aurora, an exascale supercomputer being installed at Argonne theoretically capable of more than 2 billion billion calculations per second
  • Rapid Prototyping Lab, serving as a prototyping space for Argonne’s autonomous discovery” effort leading to self-driving labs

The tours gave a glimpse into the many diverse facilities at the lab that enable researchers to carry out transformational science,” Leyffer said. 

Following the tours, MCS division researchers participated in a panel discussion about the various career opportunities for young professionals at Argonne. Kevin Brown (Walter Massey Fellow), Hara Iakovidou (postdoctoral appointee), and Tanwi Mallick (specialist, assistant computer science) spoke of their work in I/O performance analysis, distributed optimization, and development of scalable data-efficient machine learning methods for modeling network congestion.

Leyffer concluded the day’s visit by encouraging the students to apply for internships and become part of Argonne’s world-class community of talent.”  

Feedback from the students was universally positive. Below are a few of their comments:

  • I am so enamored with the facilities and grateful for the answers to my questions! It really felt like I was at home.
  • Having been to Argonne on SIAM’s last trip, I was equally if not more impressed with this one! The deep dive tour of the linear accelerator was especially interesting for those of us who have seen the other facilities, as well as for those of us who are physics majors.
  • Thank you very much for your efforts to demystifying the involved world of science we’re all trying to make a space for ourselves in. I am glad for the opportunity to have asked questions and stepped out of my shell to make conversations with the idea that the people in science are my peers and not scary unreachable individuals” :’).
  • Though this trip was unrelated to my major, I appreciated learning about things outside my field. I also appreciate the chance to talk to scientists, I loved how excited they were to tell us what they did, and I appreciated that they did not mind dumbing down” their conversations when I didn’t know the higher level concepts they were talking about. The trip was amazing.

It was incredibly interesting, and gave insight into what kinds of work physicists and mathematicians do.