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George Pau Joins CCSE as Alvarez Fellow

August 14, 2007


George Pau

It was his love for math and engineering — and a determination to pursue a better education — that prompted George Pau to leave Malaysia four years ago for the United States. That same drive for promising opportunities brought him to Berkeley Lab in July 2007 as the new Luis W. Alvarez Fellow in Computational Science.

Pau, 29, came here after earning his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was drawn into the world of developing numerical methods for solving chemistry problems. As a fellow, Pau plans to broaden his research scope to include the understanding of multiscale phenomena in physical systems and the exploration of how numerical methods could enhance nanostructure designs.

“I am glad to be here at LBL because scientists here collaborate extensively on developing codes. It allows me to see how it can be done,” said Pau, in his spartan office.

When he applied for the fellowship, he wanted to work with John Bell, Director of the Center for Computational Sciences and Engineering in the Computational Research Division. Pau got his wish and now works out of a wing in Building 50A, among researchers who develop algorithms and mathematical models for combustion experiments and nuclear flames in Type Ia supernovae, for example.

Polite and engaging, Pau grew up in Malaysia, in the city of Miri on the northwestern shore of the Borneo island. Being a doctor or an engineer confers a prestige not available to other professions in Malaysia. So when it was time to decide on a major in college, Pau picked mechanical engineering. It wasn’t a tough choice.

“I can’t become a doctor because I don’t like the sight of blood, so the only choice was engineering,” Pau said with a smile.

He excelled in school and won a scholarship and a promise from the government to send him to the United Kingdom for undergraduate study. But the government found itself lacking money to fulfill that promise when the 1997 Asian economic crisis hit. So it placed Pau in a newly built university. Pau was part of the first graduating class at the Petronas University of Technology in 2001, when he earned a degree in mechanical engineering.

What to do next? Malaysia’s higher-education system couldn’t offer him rigorous course work beyond college, he said. “I’ve always wanted to get a Ph.D., so I decided to go to Singapore for a master’s degree,” Pau said.

The neighboring country gave him a great opportunity — Pau enrolled in the Singapore-MIT Alliance program at the National University of Singapore. The alliance started in 1998 to provide educational and research collaboration in engineering and life science.

It was at the National University where Pau first learned about numerical methods, which enable scientists to understand the properties and behavior of a phenomenon through computer simulations. This research area has a broad application in many industries, including the discovery of stable chemical compounds and improved turbine designs in power plants.

MIT accepted Pau into its Ph.D. program after he worked for Motorola in Singapore for a year. At MIT, Pau became interested not only in developing numerical methods but also in analyzing existing methods and improving their efficiency. Quantifying and reducing calculation errors are some of the challenging problems for Pau to tackle during his fellowship.

Moving across the country for the fellowship is just one of the big changes in his life. Two months ago, Pau married Ming Lee Tang, a fellow Malaysian who is now a graduate student in chemistry at Stanford University. The couple met when Tang attended Brandeis University, near MIT.

Outside of work, Pau enjoys hiking, sea kayaking and tennis. He also loves to cook and counts beef rendang, along with braised duck in a five-spice powder and galanga (a root that resembles ginger) concoction, as some of his signature dishes.

About Computing Sciences at Berkeley Lab

High performance computing plays a critical role in scientific discovery. Researchers increasingly rely on advances in computer science, mathematics, computational science, data science, and large-scale computing and networking to increase our understanding of ourselves, our planet, and our universe. Berkeley Lab’s Computing Sciences Area researches, develops, and deploys new foundations, tools, and technologies to meet these needs and to advance research across a broad range of scientific disciplines.