Alyson Fox Applies Math to HPC and National Security Challenges
Alyson Fox is a math geek. She has three degrees in the subject—including a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from the University of Colorado at Boulder—and her passion for solving complex challenges drives her work at LLNL’s Center for Applied Scientific Computing (CASC). “In CASC, I’m pushing the envelope of current technologies with fundamental research while also tackling real-world problems. Solving these problems is fun because I never know what new techniques I might get to learn or develop,” she says.
Alyson is working on two projects that, at first glance, seem very different. In variable precision computing, or VPC, researchers like Alyson develop innovative data representations and algorithms to provide faster, more efficient ways to preserve the information encoded in data. For example, she focuses on error analysis in lossy compression, understanding how compressed data types affect solutions in numerical simulations. This compression analysis reduces data movement bottlenecks in supercomputers, thus helping to speed up simulations.
Her other project on collaborative autonomy involves building decentralized and distributed algorithms for the power grid, which allows devices to collaborate in making decisions about the state of the grid. This effort helps protect the U.S. power grid from cyber intrusions. The common thread in Alyson’s work is designing and analyzing algorithms. She explains, “Understanding how algorithms will be implemented on HPC systems is a key part in designing algorithms that are actually going to be useful in the real-world.” Alyson mainly codes in Julia and C++ and works with a variety of power grid and compression software tools.
Alyson interned at the Lab for three consecutive summers before joining CASC as a postdoc in 2017. She converted to full-time staff the following year and now supports new employees as a Computing Ambassador. Alyson also values outreach and professional activities beyond the Lab. She has been the keynote speaker at Expanding Your Horizons—a conference series that promotes STEM education and activities for school-aged girls in the Bay Area—and is organizing a workshop on the emerging field of VPC. Alyson is a Policy Fellow for SIAM, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. She says, “In this role, I learn from current members about important legislative issues concerning our field and how the U.S. federal budget and appropriations process works.”
Outside the office, Alyson loves to knit, garden, hike, and take care of her three cats. She wants to visit every National Park before her 40th birthday. So far, her favorite park is the Kenai Fjords in Alaska.
In CASC, I’m pushing the envelope of current technologies with fundamental research while also tackling real-world problems. Solving these problems is fun because I never know what new techniques I might get to learn or develop.
Understanding how algorithms will be implemented on HPC systems is a key part in designing algorithms that are actually going to be useful in the real-world.