Grad student earns NSF fellowship
Royal Elmore, who is conducting research in nuclear energy systems analysis under Associate Professor Paul Wilson, is among recipients of 2009 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. Elmore is a UW-Madison Graduate Engineering Research Scholar and has been a Nuclear Regulatory Commission fellow for the last year.
The Hacker Within:
New student organization ignites passion for scientific computing
THW founders (from left) Kyle Oliver, Katy Huff, Milad Fatenejad and Matt Terry.
ike many faculty, scientists and graduate students in isolated pockets across campus, fourth-year nuclear engineering PhD student Milad Fatenejad spends most of his time writing computer programs that enable him to model real-life experiments.
Such simulations are increasingly important elements of scientific research—yet the people
responsible for writing the code often have little background for doing so. “Computers today are ubiquitous and software is available to do many tasks, like spreadsheets and other technical programs like Matlab used by engineers,” says Professor Greg Moses. “Yet, large-scale scientific computing is a skill that too few graduate students come to graduate school equipped to handle.”
Although founded by engineering physics graduate students, The Hacker Within is a multidisciplinary group. Its logo is symbolic of THW members’ diversity: The logo includes a map of the earth drawn using binary numbers, which spell “The Hacker Within” in ASCII format. (Larger image)
Fatenejad, who models fusion experiments under Moses, fell into that category—and he taught himself such programming languages as C++ and FORTRAN. “I had a couple of computer classes in high school, but everything else that I’ve learned I’ve kind of had to piece together myself,” he says. “And that process many times was extremely long and painful. I don’t want other people to go through that.”
As a result, he and fellow engineering physics grad students Katy Huff, Kyle Oliver and Matthew Terry co-founded The Hacker Within (TWH). Through the organization, they share scientific software development skills and knowledge with faculty, staff and students from across the UW-Madison campus.
The group meets about twice a month to discuss some aspect of programming or computation, and anyone can attend, regardless of their background or knowledge level. One newcomer, says Fatenejad, told him, “I just started programming, but I think I’m starting to like it.”
In addition to their regular meetings, group members also offer less-frequent boot camps, or eight-hour workshops (spread over four days) devoted to a particular topic. In January 2009, the group conducted a UNIX training session for 18 people; in March 2009, 40 people attended the C++ boot camp. Attendees at the latter hailed from almost every engineering department, as well as geography, astronomy, biochemistry, limnology and forest ecology, and included undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students, and UW-Madison staff and faculty—including Fatenejad’s advisor Moses. “We want to create an atmosphere that’s welcoming to everyone,” says Fatenejad.
The group is planning to hold a boot camp in fall that will address the Python programming language. Learn more about THW and check for event updates at hackerwithin.org.