Two UChicago scientists both earn $1 million Department of Energy fellowships

October 21, 2019

Ian Foster, Josh Frieman will use awards to deepen academic-national lab ties

The Department of Energy has honored University of Chicago scientists Ian Foster and Josh Frieman for their transformative research and scientific leadership, selecting them as part of its inaugural Office of Science Distinguished Scientist Fellowship program.

Foster, a renowned computer scientist who has influenced the field of data science, and Frieman, an eminent physicist who led the Dark Energy Survey for nearly a decade, will each receive $1 million over three years to deepen collaboration between academic institutions and national laboratories.

Office of Science distinguished scientist fellows were chosen from nominations submitted by nine U.S. national laboratories. Foster and Frieman are two of only five scientists selected, chosen for their scientific leadership, engagement with the academic research community, scientific excellence and significant scientific achievement.

Foster, who is Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Computer Science at UChicago and a division director at UChicago-affiliated Argonne National Laboratory, was recognized for “pioneering work in distributed and high-performance computing with fundamental and long-lasting impacts on both computer science as a discipline and the practice of computing across the Office of Science.”

Frieman, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UChicago and head of the Particle Physics Division at UChicago-affiliated Fermilab, was listed for “pioneering advances in the science of dark energy and cosmic acceleration, including leading the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-II Supernova Survey, co-founding the Dark Energy Survey and service as its director.”

Critical architectures

Foster is director of the Data Science and Learning Division at Argonne. Foster’s work has been focused on using parallelism and rapid communications to promote discovery, whether by accelerating complex computational processes, linking remote computers, and data or enabling distributed virtual teams. He is leading cutting-edge research in artificial intelligence —specifically, machine learning systems for science.

“This recognition of Argonne’s exceptional computer science program and culture, and the work of my many collaborators over many years, is extremely gratifying,” Foster said. ​“I am excited to be able to use this support to pursue new research directions at the intersection of artificial intelligence and science.”

Foster’s award-winning data management software, Globus, is used across the DOE national laboratories and at thousands of other research institutions worldwide. A team led by Argonne researchers recently used Globus to achieve a recording-setting file transfer that moved 2.9 petabytes of data as part of a research project involving three of the largest cosmological simulations to date.

Foster has published hundreds of scientific papers and eight books on computing and data. Methods and software developed under his leadership underpin many large national and international cyberinfrastructures.

“Ian has been instrumental in developing data management methods for science and architecting software critical to users of the nation’s first exascale computer,” said Paul Kearns, director of Argonne. ​“He also dedicates significant time to teaching our next generation of computer scientists.”

Deepening cosmic connections

Frieman said he will use the funding to support his cosmic research program and to foster tighter connections in cosmic frontier research between UChicago-affiliated Fermilab and the University of Chicago.

While a significant number of UChicago graduate students and postdoctoral researchers have conducted research at Fermilab in a variety of areas of high-energy physics, very few currently carry out cosmology or theoretical astrophysics work at the lab. Frieman aims to change that by building more active collaboration between Fermilab and the University in research with cosmic surveys.

“There are many very talented students at the University and many very talented scientists at Fermilab,” Frieman said. “I’ve mentored students and postdocs at the University of Chicago, but few of them have spent time at Fermilab. And there are postdocs in the astrophysics groups at Fermilab who spend a small fraction of their time at the University. I’m looking to bridge that gap, to help make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.”

Frieman’s current research centers on the Fermilab-hosted Dark Energy Survey—an international effort he led from 2010 to 2018 that studied distant galaxies to understand the mysterious force accelerating the expansion of the universe. The survey will transition in coming years to the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, whose construction is managed by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

“The Dark Energy Survey is at a very exciting phase of its science analysis, and both the University and Fermilab will play significant roles in LSST. I’d like to get more students and postdocs engaged in both projects and to stimulate synergies between the lab and the University in the process,” he said. “Collaboration drives science forward, and this award recognizes that the more closely the labs and universities work together, the further we can take our research. It’s an honor to be among the first recipients of this fellowship.”

Currently the president of the Aspen Center for Physics, Frieman is a fellow of the American Physical Society, of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is also chair of the American Physical Society Division of Astrophysics.