Omar Ghattas, a professor in ICES, Geological Sciences, and Mechanical Engineering, has been selected as the recipient of the 2019 SIAM Geosciences Career Prize. He is being recognized for “groundbreaking contributions in analysis, methods, algorithms, and software for grand challenge computational problems in geosciences, and for exceptional influence as mentor, educator, and collaborator.” This prize is awarded every two years to an outstanding senior researcher for broad and distinguished contributions to the solution of mathematical and computational problems in the geosciences.
Ghattas has been an incredibly productive researcher, authoring over 140 publications in the top scientific journals across applied mathematics, numerical analysis, engineering, and science, including the journal Science, where his work was featured on the cover. He has won two Gordon Bell prizes--the premier award in high-performance computing--related to his work in computational geosciences, and has been a Gordon Bell prize finalist numerous times.
Ghattas and his students and postdocs have made contributions to many computational grand challenge applications in the geosciences, in particular inverse problems in seismic wave propagation, mantle convection, and ice sheet flows.
"Omar's work is a wonderful example of the ground-breaking interdisciplinary research that is the hallmark of ICES," says ICES Director Karen Willcox. "He combines sophisticated mathematical analysis with deep physical insight, and wraps it all up in high-performance scalable algorithms."
As one example of the scale and impact of Ghattas' research, the work that led to his second Gordon Bell Prize in 2015 modeled the flow inside Earth’s mantle driving plate tectonics, which in turn controls earthquakes and volcanic activity. The award-winning research developed an innovative implicit solver, using three different adaptations of multigrid algorithms (based on order, geometric refinement, and algebraic agglomeration) to realistically simulate mantle flow at unprecedented resolution and accuracy. The team was able to predict the motions of the Earth’s plates and the forces acting on them while simulating the flow of the mantle. The simulation involved more than 600 billion nonlinear equations, a major milestone in computational science and engineering—a high water mark for resolution of Earth’s mantle flow.
The SIAM Geosciences Career Prize citation also calls out Ghattas' contributions as an exceptional mentor, educator, and collaborator, a quality documented by his students, postdocs, and colleagues.
"Omar's excitement for research in the field of computational geoscience and mathematics in general is infectious," writes former ICES postdoctoral fellow Dr. Noemi Petra, now a professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of California, Merced. "This combined with the welcoming and friendly research group atmosphere makes working with Omar feel like an exciting adventure rather than actual work."
Former ICES Research Scientist Georg Stadler, now a professor of Mathematics at New York University's Courant Institute, adds "I was planning on spending only a couple of years as a postdoc in Omar's group, but the intellectually stimulating but enjoyable and fun environment in the group and at ICES in general led me to spending many years in Austin."
The prize will be awarded at the 2019 SIAM Conference on Mathematical & Computational Issues in the Geosciences (GS19), to be held March 11-14, 2019 in Houston, where Professor Ghattas will also deliver the prize lecture. This represents the third time an ICES faculty member has won this SIAM prize. Professor Mary Wheeler received the inaugural Geosciences Career Prize in 2009, and Professor Clint Dawson was awarded the prize in 2013.