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Five CS Staff Receive Director’s Awards

December 1, 2015

Five employees in the Computing Sciences organization will accept Director’s Award for Exceptional Achievement at a ceremony held in Berkeley Lab's 50B Auditorium on December 2. This year's recipeints include Deb Agarwal, Eli Dart and Brent Draney, James Sethian and Lynn Rippe.

Agarwal Committed to Creating a More Diverse Workplace 

Deborah Agarwal

As she worked her way through UC Santa Barbara earning her Ph.D. in engineering, Deb Agarwal felt pretty comfortable as one of the 10 percenters – a woman in a field dominated by men. Since she was succeeding in her area, Agarwal didn’t worry about the discrepancy. When her advisor suggested she attend a new conference about women in computing, Agarwal didn’t see much value in attending.

But she was persuaded to go on the basis of finding a job, and now credits the experience with turning her into a leading advocate for diversity. For her efforts in mentoring and leadership roles promoting diversity, Agarwal will receive a 2015 Director’s Award for Exceptional Achievement.

That first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing only had about 200 attendees, Agarwal recalls, but among them were women like Fran Allen and Barbara Simons, people Agarwal both respected and could ask for advice. “It was so uplifting, so invigorating and these women who had gone ahead of me showed me a path for my career,” said Agarwal, who heads CRD’s Data Science and Technology Department.

It was at the Grace Hopper conference and various workshops that it became clear the only way to increase the number of women in computing “was to understand what we were doing to ourselves,” Agarwal said, adding that in the 1980s, the number of women choosing computing as a career was “dropping like a rock.” She said she learned that the people who were hardest on the women coming up were other women who knew how hard it was to succeed, that women had to be better, faster and stronger than their male counterparts.

“That helped me realize my own biases, even when I was trying very hard to help other women,” Agarwal said.

She also knows there are no simple fixes to increasing diversity, which will require changes in the education system as well as in the workplace. Agarwal said she initially focused on bringing more women into the lab because the Hopper conference offered a prime opportunity for interacting with women, both individually and as attendees who visit the Berkeley Lab booth. “We are there and we are very high energy.” Agarwal was also a member of the program committee for this year’s Grace Hopper conference.

To help improve the workplace for all employees, Agarwal helped establish and leads the Computing Sciences Diversity Working Group and led the development of the CS mentoring program.

“I want us to be a workplace where Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler would have been hired by us and would have been better known for her scientific achievements than her beauty,” said Agarwal, citing the Austrian actress from the 1930s who was also a pioneer in wireless communication and co-developed a system to manipulate radio frequencies at irregular intervals, an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by the enemy. The "spread spectrum" technology that Kiesler, known on screen as Hedy Lamarr, helped invent also forms the technical backbone that makes cellular phones, wi-fi and other wireless operations possible.

Dart & Draney Lauded for Developing Science DMZ  

Brent Draney and Eli Dart

Eli Dart, a network engineer in ESnet’s Science Engagement Team, and Brent Draney, head of NERSC’s Networking, Security and Servers Group, have been honored with Berkeley Lab Director’s Awards for Exceptional Achievement.

They are being lauded for their development of the Science DMZ, a network architecture that allows scientists to exchange and access large data sets quickly and securely. They were recognized in the area of operations for “achievement in operational effectiveness, process re-engineering or improvement, resource management and efficiency, or partnerships across organizational/departmental boundaries.”

The roots of the Science DMZ go back at least a decade, when Dart and Draney were working at NERSC and designed a networking and security architecture optimized for high-speed data transfer. Dart first coined the term “Science DMZ” in early 2010 to describe the network configuration linking two DOE sites: the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey and NERSC at Berkeley Lab. The name is a reference to a decades-old networking concept, “Demilitarized Zone,” a location in the network for public-facing network services.

“Network people live in the middle and are able to see how different science collaborations use the network,” Dart said. “By recognizing use patterns specific to scientific applications, we could make the infrastructure for science behave better. And if we could come up with a model that could be pretty easily replicated by other facilities, we could remove a lot of the complexity of creating and maintaining a high performance data infrastructure.” 

Dart and Draney’s primary achievement has been to develop and codify best practices for advanced networking in a simple model that can be generalized, with a clear and well-articulated conceptual framework, vocabulary and strategic context. The simple yet flexible principles they developed (see http://fasterdata.es.net/science-dmz/) have now been widely adopted around the world.

In recent years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has endorsed the Science DMZ concept and funded network deployments at over 120 US campuses, with a cumulative investment of roughly $60 million by the end of the current fiscal year. 

“Thanks to several years of NSF investment, almost every major research campus in the U.S. has deployed, or is in the process of deploying, a Science DMZ based on the design of Eli and Brent,” said Greg Bell, ESnet director, who nominated the two for the Director’s Awards. This includes most UC campuses, Caltech, Stanford, USC and many other institutions in California alone. In addition, the architecture is deployed widely in Australia, Canada and other parts of the world, he added. 

“The lasting benefit of Science DMZ is a transformation in the way universities and labs are able to cope with and process large data sets, by moving them quickly and efficiently, without artificial constraints of geography,” Bell said.

Sethian's CAMERA Accelerates Scientific Discovery  

James Sethian

James Sethian, Head of Berkeley Lab’s Mathematics Group and UC Berkeley Professor of Mathematics, has been honored with a Berkeley Lab Director’s Award for Exceptional Achievement. He is being recognized for conceptualizing and founding the Center for Advanced Mathematics for Energy Research Applications (CAMERA).

With the advent of new technology, scientific facilities are collecting data at increasing rates and higher resolution. However, making sense of this data is becoming a major bottleneck. New mathematics and algorithms are needed to extract useful information from these experiments. And that’s where CAMERA comes in. The center’s mission is to develop fundamental math and algorithms, delivered as data analysis software that can accelerate scientific discovery. CAMERA achieves this by assembling teams of applied mathematicians, statisticians, experimental scientists, computational physicists, computer scientists and software engineers to tackle the big challenges faced in experimental science.

“CAMERA provides a hub where algorithms and applied science meet,” says David Brown, Director of the Computational Research Division at Berkeley Lab. “The algorithms created within CAMERA are designed to directly impact the work of the experimentalists. The center has created a positive impact by providing software solutions, novel algorithms, and most importantly, expertise wherever it is needed most.”

“Jamie (Sethian) put a lot of effort into laying the groundwork for computational scientists, experimental scientists, mathematicians and software engineers to work together and build tools that will help the entire DOE community,” says Lin Lin, Berkeley Lab Scientist and UC Berkeley Assistant Professor of Mathematics.

According to Lin, Sethian also worked relentlessly to understand the work required of his CAMERA team members. He notes that this was crucial to successfully creating an interdisciplinary, integrated workforce for tackling emerging scientific data analysis challenges.

“If you look at the broad range of science that is under the CAMERA umbrella now—including electronic structure theory, grazing incidence small angle X-ray scattering, image analysis, material informatics, X-ray nanocrystallography, ptychography and fluctuation X-ray scattering—you really get a sense of how much effort he put into making CAMERA successful,” says Lin. “Amazingly, he did all of this while managing Berkeley Lab’s Math Group, doing his own research and teaching classes at UC Berkeley.”

“It’s really quite impressive,” adds Jeffrey Donatelli, a postdoctoral researcher in Berkeley Lab’s Math Group. “Jamie works to gain a technical understanding of all the expertise and interests of researchers in our group, in addition to learning the challenges and needs of experimentalists. He is then able to connect the experimentalists with the appropriate CAMERA scientists, which has led to several successful collaborations and new breakthroughs in experimental science.”

CAMERA launched in 2009 as a Laboratory Directed Research and Development program at Berkeley Lab. Based on this success, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) and Basic Energy Sciences (BES) jointly invested in CAMERA as a pilot project. Recently, both ASCR and BES awarded the center another round of funding to expand as a national resource for all DOE computational, network and lights source facilities.

Sethian is also being commended for his investment in young researchers. Through CAMERA, he has advised, instructed and positioned an interdisciplinary team of young researchers to tackle a range of scientific tasks, promoting teams with skills at the forefront of crosscutting research.

“By supporting a large number of early career scientists and postdocs through CAMERA, Jamie is forming an interdisciplinary team of young researchers that will be able to continue this work well into the future,” says Donatelli.

“The ability to create novel algorithms that directly impact domain scientists while solving pressing current and future needs is instrumental to the success of Berkeley Lab,” says Brown. “Jamie’s achievement provides a template for future interactions where scientists, mathematicians, and engineers need to come together to tackle grand challenges in science.”

Rippe Recasts Supercomputer Procurement  

Lynn Rippe

If you ask her, Lynn Rippe will tell you that she just stumbled into buying supercomputers. If you ask anyone else, they’ll tell you she was born to the role.

At Berkeley Lab, Rippe has been the driving force in more than ten major supercomputer procurements worth nearly $1 billion. Her pioneering methods have not only saved millions of dollars, but they have been copied by supercomputer centers across the Department of Energy and around the world. For her procurement work with NERSC, Rippe received the Berkeley Lab Citation, an honor awarded for the highest level of service.

Rippe’s path to buying supercomputers was not direct. A stay-at-home mom who found herself supporting two children alone after a divorce, she went to work in accounting. After a stint with the IRS, she landed a contracts management job with the Navy that eventually led to a position with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

“There are a few younger folks who set out to have a career in contracts management: I just fell into it,” Rippe said.

Rippe moved to Berkeley Lab in 1996 with NERSC. At LLNL she’d already acquired several large systems and negotiated the purchase of the nationwide backbone for the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet). At NERSC, she has procured 15 high-performance computing systems and advised the DOE complex on many more.

“I enjoy the challenge of NERSC procurements. Every single one is different. They’re never cookie cutter,” Rippe said. That’s putting it mildly.

Supercomputer procurements are complex contract negotiations fraught with financial, technical and legal hurdles. Cray Inc. President and CEO Peter Unagaro puts it like this: “[Y]ou are procuring something that hasn’t ever been built (and sometimes not even designed), has many, many unknowns, will end up not being exactly what you originally procured and will have some problems after it is put into production.” Rippe, said Ungaro, can find “a way through the problems and issues and keep, or even increase, the return on investment to the government, while also finding a way for the vendor to be successful.”

Rippe introduced innovations that made buying and running supercomputers more tenable for both the lab and its vendors: third-party financing, options for upgrades in contracts and rigorous statements of work to name a few. Her work was so successful, its influence spread.

“Lynn pioneered the procurement processes used at all of ASCR's centers today,” said Barbara Helland, Facilities Division director for the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program in the DOE Office of Science. “She has developed processes that ensure that our HPC procurements are rigorous, fair and the best value to the government…. She has saved the laboratories and government millions of dollars.”

In fact, her influence is global, said Ungaro: “We often joke when we see a procurement from some customer in the U.K, Japan, Korea and many other countries, as we’ll see ‘Lynn’s clauses’ in them. It is a great sign of the respect she has from her peers worldwide.

For all her accomplishments, Rippe never loses sight of the ultimate purpose of the systems she procures and takes pride in the science they make possible: “I really like seeing something on the cover of a science magazine and knowing I had a hand in making it happen,” Rippe said. “It’s an honor to know the systems I’ve worked on have been used to help win Nobel prizes.”


About Computing Sciences at Berkeley Lab

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) Computing Sciences organization provides the computing and networking resources and expertise critical to advancing the Department of Energy's research missions: developing new energy sources, improving energy efficiency, developing new materials and increasing our understanding of ourselves, our world and our universe.

ESnet, the Energy Sciences Network, provides the high-bandwidth, reliable connections that link scientists at 40 DOE research sites to each other and to experimental facilities and supercomputing centers around the country. The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) powers the discoveries of 6,000 scientists at national laboratories and universities, including those at Berkeley Lab's Computational Research Division (CRD). CRD conducts research and development in mathematical modeling and simulation, algorithm design, data storage, management and analysis, computer system architecture and high-performance software implementation. NERSC and ESnet are DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world's most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab's scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the DOE’s Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.