Kloeckner wins NSF CAREER Award to make computer simulation faster, cheaper

9/20/2017 5:12:21 PM David Mercer, CS @ ILLINOIS

Kloeckner looks to create better, more versatile solvers for elliptic PDEs in order to improve large-scale simulations.

Written by David Mercer, CS @ ILLINOIS

CS Assistant Professor Andreas Kloeckner has won a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, and plans to use it to make numerical simulation tools for applications such as fluid flow cheaper and easier for engineers to use.

Numerical simulations based on partial differential equations, or PDEs, are being used across a broad range of applications, from weather prediction to the design of cars.

But wider adoption and broader use is being held back by the computational cost.

A widely applicable subset of PDEs (called elliptic PDEs) requires large, resource-intensive computations. To be successful, these computations must solve equations with often billions of variables whose answers are all dependent on one another. Large-scale simulations often spend 80 percent or more of their computation time solving this type of problem, and these simulations often run for days or weeks supercomputers.

Kloeckner’s research into a family of methods to solve elliptic PDEs, based on integral equations, provides a way to decrease that expense. But the effectiveness of these methods is limited by the amount of specialized engineering required to make them work.

His research goal is to make these methods versatile enough to simulate the air flow around a car, the propagation of light in communication devices, or the transport of a drug through the human bloodstream without a high degree of customization.

“The main thrust of what I am trying to accomplish is make it so the process of creating a simulation doesn’t require someone to sit down and do all this work by hand for each new problem they want to solve,” Kloeckner said.

The CAREER Award is given by the NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program. The award recognizes junior faculty who show the potential to be role models in research and education.

The award also includes an educational component. Kloeckner has teamed up with Urbana Middle School’s SPLASH after-school program, the university’s Office of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, and NumFOCUS, a Texas-based nonprofit that supports open-source computing, to develop a computer modeling program for middle-schoolers.

The CAREER Award is prestigious, but Kloeckner says that as much as anything, he is excited about how the $400,000 that comes with it could help further his research.

And if his models do someday help design, say, better airplane wings, and he can climb aboard a craft that uses them… “That was designed using my stuff? That would be super fun,” Kloeckner said.

Kloeckner came to Illinois in 2013 after spending nearly three years as an instructor at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University. He has since been named to the campus List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Their Students in 2015, and won the CS @ ILLINOIS C.W. Gear Outstanding Junior Faculty Award in 2016.

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This story was published September 20, 2017.