UNM Ph.D. student looks ahead after winning a prestigious scholarship: UNM Newsroom

A graduate student at the University of New Mexico is looking ahead after winning a prestigious national scholarship.

David Vargas, a UNM Ph.D. student in applied mathematics, was named a recipient of the Sandia National Laboratories “John von Neumann Postdoctoral Fellowship” in Computational Science.

According to Sandia Labs, this is one of their most prestigious postdoctoral fellowships with funding from the Applied Mathematics Research Program of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research.

“My overwhelming emotion was just: I felt humbled and very honored,” Vargas said. “It’s more than I ever expected from getting my PhD. at UNM.”

Vargas presentation

Vargas at the SIAM Conference on Parallel Processing for Scientific Computing in Baltimore, March 2024.

Vargas says there were four finalists, two of those finalists were students at UNM.

“I looked at all the past fellows and they were all predominantly from great schools, MIT, Yale, Harvard, none that I could see were from UNM,” Vargas said. “To be the first student from UNM to graduate with the fellowship is pretty cool.”

Vargas’ research has focused on parallel-in-time methods for chaotic dynamical systems, leading to the first known results of a meaningful speedup in the time dimension for computational simulations of chaotic systems.

“We try to solve simulations faster by running them on more computers,” he says.The only way to speed these things up in the long run is by having more computers and having them do more parallel work,”

He will spend the next two years at Sandia and continue his parallel processing for high-performance computing research through the fellowship.

“A few other experts and I expect this research to become extremely important in the next decade or two,” Vargas said. “We are trying to lay the foundation for that in the future.”

While the Albuquerque native started his college career as a chemistry major before switching to math, he says this fellowship is an opportunity to decide where his degree will take him down the road, whether it’s a laboratory or a classroom.

“Right now I’m really enjoying the research and the specific research I’m doing,” Vargas says. “But at some point I would like to become a professor.”

Vargas is no stranger to awards: After earning his bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics from UNM in 2020, he took home one of three student paper awards at the 2022 Copper Mountain Conference on Iterative Methods and in 2023 at the 2023 Copper Mountain Conference on Iterative and Multi-grid. Methods. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program also awarded him an honorable mention.

Vargas will graduate from UNM this summer.

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