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UT is Full Speed at SC Conference

Four computational science research centers from the University of Tennessee—the Bredesen Center, the Global Computing Laboratory, the Innovative Computing Laboratory, and the SimCenter—will represent the university at this year’s International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis (SC18) on November 11–16 in Dallas, Texas.

In modern science, computational modeling and simulation using high-performance computing (HPC) represents a new branch of scientific methodology, known broadly as “computational science,” that now sits alongside traditional theory and experiment. Computational science is accelerating things like drug development and energy research and enabling scientists to tackle problems that were simply intractable without HPC.

SC18, sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), brings together over 10,000 scientists, engineers, and industry leaders in HPC for invited talks, panels, research papers, tutorials, workshops, posters, and Birds of a Feather sessions. This capstone conference enables the principal architects of HPC and computational science to share new insights and ideas with their peers and nurture essential collaborations in the field. For its part, the University of Tennessee has a decades-long history in HPC and computational science—boasting four major research centers described below—and SC18 is the ideal venue to present its cutting-edge research.

The Bredesen Center offers one of the world’s leading interdisciplinary PhD programs in Data Science and Engineering (DSE) by bringing together students and researchers from the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The Bredesen Center distinguishes itself from traditional PhD programs by allowing students to create customized PhD experiences working on interdisciplinary projects sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy as well as other government agencies. DSE students have access to world-class computing expertise and resources at the university and at ORNL—including ORNL’s new Summit supercomputer. A large array of other ORNL facilities generate unique scientific data sets and enable cutting-edge research in computational and data sciences. DSE focus areas include life and health sciences, materials science, advanced manufacturing, national security, transportation, urban systems, and environmental sciences. The Bredesen Center also offers an interdisciplinary doctorate in Energy Science and Engineering.


The Global Computing Laboratory, headed by Prof. Michela Taufer, focuses on various aspects of HPC and its use in application science. The lab is engaged in the design and testing of efficient computational algorithms and adaptive scheduling policies for scientific computing on GPUs, cloud computing, and volunteer computing. Interdisciplinary research with scientists and engineers in fields such as chemistry and chemical engineering, pharmaceutical sciences, seismology, and mathematics is at the core of the lab’s activities and philosophy.


The Innovative Computing Laboratory, founded by Prof. Jack Dongarra in 1989, is a large computer science research and development group situated in the heart of the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus. The lab’s mission is to ensure that the University of Tennessee is a world leader in advanced high-performance and scientific computing through research, education, and collaboration. Specializing in numerical linear algebra, distributed computing, and performance analysis and benchmarking, the lab employs over forty researchers, students, and staff, and has earned many accolades, including four R&D100 awards.


SimCenter, headed by Prof. Tony Skjellum, is a research incubator at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) for interdisciplinary work with a foundation in HPC, modeling and simulation, data analytics, and machine learning. The SimCenter helps faculty and students at all levels advance their research and learning in a variety of fields including biology, computer science, mathematics, energy, the environment, smart cities, aerospace, and advanced materials. SimCenter is also UTC’s core facility for advanced computing and network infrastructure and offers HPC and Virtual Private Cloud Resources for faculty and outside collaborators undertaking computing and big data problems across a spectrum of disciplines. One of the center’s goals is to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration in computational sciences and engineering by providing meeting space, making connections among faculty, and offering proposal development and other research support.

Picture of Dr. Nicole McFarlane

Detecting Danger

One of the most routine procedures for patients with diabetes is also one of the most painful: the frequent need to draw blood for a glucose test.

Thanks to ongoing innovation from Nicole McFarlane, those days may be numbered.

McFarlane, an assistant professor in the Min H.Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has made great strides in recent years in the development of new types of sensors.

“We’ve taken a two-pronged approach,” McFarlane said. “We’ve aimed to build a better sensor that will require a smaller sample size, but also be able to reliably replace the sensors people currently use.”

McFarlane and her team have been working with analyte sensors, which are designed based on biology and can be implanted inside a patient to allow for continuous, accurate monitoring when paired with a neuro transmitter.

Doing so would not only eliminate the need for people with diabetes to prick their fingers multiple times a day, but would resolve the issue of patients skipping testing.

In keeping time with ever-changing technology, the eventual goal is to take these first-generation sensors and add machine learning, allowing for “smart” devices.

Such devices could potentially deliver medication as needed, which would allow for a reduction in or elimination of the need for insulin injection.

Picture of Dr. Nicole McFarlane's sensor


In addition to having practical application in the medical arena, the properties of the sensors being developed by McFarlane also hold promise in other areas. For example, as a detector at the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Scientists working at SNS gain access to behaviors and properties of materials at the smallest scales, allowing them to improve fields as diverse as electronics and medicine.

The problem is that a common means of measurement requires the use of photomultiplier tubes, which are expensive, require massive cooling efforts, and can be somewhat delicate, since they are inside a glass tube.

McFarlane’s sensors, on the other hand, provide solutions for all of those issues and have a key added advantage as well.

“The Department of Energy is very interested in the ability to use the sensors because they are smaller, faster, and more cost efficient than tubes,” McFarlane said. “We use the same technology as the camera in your phone, which has the added benefit of not being magnetic.”

That last point is vital because the vast magnetic field generated by equipment at SNS could have the unwanted outcome of interfering with results of experiments.

The DOE’s Office of Science was impressed enough with the idea that it recently awarded McFarlane and her team $600,000 to build out the concept for use at SNS.

Proof that, while the device itself is small, the impact it could have is huge.

EECS Professor Receives Award

EECS Professor, Dr. Fei “Fred” Wang, is a recipient of the IEEE IAS Industrial Power Conversion Systems Department Gerald Kliman Innovator Award. Dr. Wang was awarded at the IEEE Energy Conversion Congress & Expo in Portland, Oregon on September 27, 2018.

IEEE IAS Industrial Power Conversion Systems Department Gerald Kliman Innovator Award was established in 2005 to honor innovators who contributed to the technical areas of this department. The award may be presented annually to an individual for meritorious contributions to the advancement of power conversion technologies through innovations and their application to industry. The technical field for this award includes, but is not limited to Electrical Machines, Electrical Drives, Power Electronic Systems and Power Electronic Devices. This Award is named in honor of Dr. Gerald Kliman, in memory of his many contributions and innovations to these technical areas. This award is sponsored by General Electric through the IEEE Foundation.

Dr. Fei “Fred” Wang is a professor and Condra Chair of Excellence in Power Electronics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is a founding member and serves as the Technical Director of the NSF-DOE Engineering Research Center CURENT. He also holds a joint position in Oak Ridge National Lab. His experience also includes 8 years as an associate professor and the Technical Director at the Center for Power Electronics Systems, Virginia Tech, and 10 years as an engineer and R&D manager at General Electric. His research interests include WBG power electronics, and power electronics applications in electrified transportation, renewable energy systems and electric grid. Dr. Wang is a fellow of the IEEE and fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Inventors.

Picture of power lines

Microgrids Hold the Key to Keeping Power Flowing After Disasters

Hurricanes cause problems, injuries, and even deaths in a number of ways, not the least of which is failure of the power grid.

In the case of Hurricane Maria, for example, the amount of time it took to restore power in the US territory of Puerto Rico became an international story. It was seven months before most power had been restored.

Power loss can be life-threatening in many ways—from hospitals and shelters losing the ability to run critical care devices to failed pumping stations exacerbating flooding to fires sparked by people trying to cook or provide heat.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Microgrid technology now being refined will make it less likely for power to go off and, if it does, allows it to be restored much quicker.

Researchers at UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have spent much of the past decade improving microgrid technology, helping make the systems more efficient, dependable, autonomous, and cost-effective.

“They are smaller, more localized, and much easier to control and repair if needed,” said Leon Tolbert, Min H. Kao Professor in UT’s Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “If there is a loss of power we can get it restored in hours rather than weeks or months.”

Think of microgrids as backup generators for the full power grid. They unite to distribute power across a region, but if something threatens the system they can operate independently. So when a storm strikes a power plant, the grid goes into “island mode.” Each microgrid switches to focusing just on its own area so one plant going down doesn’t affect the operation of the rest.

Microgrids Explained: Keeping the Power On During Storms

Tolbert points out that the benefit of microgrids means critical emergency services like hospitals, first responders, and emergency shelters can continue to operate without disruption.

“Microgrid stations aren’t just connected to the grid but also have back-up power sources for when the rest of the grid goes down,” Tolbert said. “It varies, but they can have solar panels, fuel cells, diesel, even batteries—whatever it takes to keep them running in their particular environment.”

Fueled by the outcry over the length of time it took to restore power after Hurricane Sandy, the Associated Press studied how long it typically took to restore power to customers.

They found that, on average, swaths of coverage areas remained without a functioning power grid two to three weeks after major hurricanes.

And these weren’t in rural areas but major global centers like New York, Miami, New Orleans, and Houston.

Tolbert, along with joint UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Power Electronics Yilu Liu and joint UT-ORNL Professor Fred Wang, is helping change that.

“The big thing in the past has been the cost, but the price of materials has come down and solar panels, fuel cells, and batteries are becoming cheaper all the time,” Tolbert said. “They are now practical. They just have to be implemented.”


David Goddard (865-974-0683,

Picture of Dr. Jack Dongarra and the Titan Supercomputer

Dongarra Earns Major National Computing Honor

Jack Dongarra has built his career becoming one of the foremost authorities in high-performance computing.

In recognition of his work, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) have awarded him the SIAM/ACM Prize in Computational Science and Engineering, one of the top honors in his field.

The award cites Dongarra’s key role in the development of software and software standards, software repositories, performance and benchmarking software, and in community efforts to prepare for the challenges of exascale computing, especially in adapting linear algebra infrastructure to emerging architectures.

“This is a validation of the research and efforts that I and my coworkers have made over the last few decades,” said Dongarra. “Supercomputing and exascale computing play important roles in everything from energy to health to national security, so our work is and will continue to be of vital importance.”

A distinguished professor at UT and distinguished research member in ORNL’s Computational and Applied Mathematics Group, Dongarra is perhaps best known as the person who monitors computing performance around the world, releasing the list of the world’s fastest machines.

He also has developed algorithms, models, and computing libraries that are used by industry leaders such as Intel, IBM, Nvidia, Cray, and Hitachi, among others, and has played a key role on the evolution of supercomputing in the US since the 1970s.

As director of the joint UT‘s Innovative Computing Laboratory, he has helped transform it into an internationally-recognized source of expertise on a variety of computing topics—winning four R&D 100 awards along the way—while growing it to include 45 employees in a mix of faculty, researchers, and students.

At ORNL Dongarra pursues the development, analysis and application of efficient numerical algorithms for solving large-scale scientific and engineering problems on advanced computer architectures.

“Jack is a leading figure in one of our core areas of expertise,” said Tickle College of Engineering Interim Dean Mark Dean. “This award is a reflection of both the quality of his work and the respect he has earned from his peers.”

The accolade is the latest in a series of honors for Dongarra, including being elected to both the National Academy of Engineering and the Russian Academy of Sciences, being named a fellow of SIAM, ACM, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, from whom he also received the first Medal of Excellence in Scalable Computing.

The award will be presented at the SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering in Spokane, Washington, on February 25.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683,

College Now 33rd in 2019 U.S. News and World Report Rankings

Graphic showing Tickle College is ranked 33rd among all public universities, by US News & World ReportThe Tickle College of Engineering climbed one spot and is now the 33rd-ranked undergraduate program among public universities, according to the 2019 U.S. News and World Report rankings.

The college is ranked 59th overall in the new National Universities list, which includes public and private universities that emphasize research and offer a full range of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs.

“We’ve built tremendous momentum in the college, and that’s helping generate a great deal of excitement,” said Tickle College of Engineering Interim Dean Mark Dean. “We’re pleased that the things we are doing are getting the recognition they deserve.”

The rankings are based on data gathered in the spring and summer of 2018. Unlike graduate school and university-wide ratings, the only score used to measure colleges at the undergraduate level is a peer review score.

In the full rankings, UT as a whole is 52nd among all public universities and 115th nationally. Read more about the university’s rankings.

EECS Professor Awarded 2019 SIAM/ACM Prize in Computational Science and Engineering

Picture of Dr. Jack Dongarra

Dr. Jack Dongarra

Dr. Jack Dongarra has been selected to receive the 2019 SIAM/ACM Prize in Computational Science and Engineering.

This award is presented every two years by SIAM and the Association for Computing Machinery in the area of computational science in recognition of outstanding contributions to the development and use of mathematical and computational tools and methods for the solution of science and engineering problems.

More information about the SIAM/ACM Prize

The award will be presented at the SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering (CSE19) in Spokane, WA February 25-March 1, 2019.

Jack Dongarra runs a research group called the Innovative Computing Laboratory (ICL). He is part of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at the University of Tennessee, is a Distinguished Research Staff at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Computer Science and Mathematics Division and is engaged in research in various areas of high-performance computing.

ICL has grown into an internationally recognized research laboratory, specializing in Numerical Linear Algebra, Distributed Computing, and Performance Evaluation and Benchmarking. The lab now employs forty-five researchers, students, and staff, and has earned many accolades, including four R&D100 awards.

Jack Dongarra specializes in numerical algorithms in linear algebra, parallel computing, the use of advanced-computer architectures, programming methodology, and tools for parallel computers. His research includes the development, testing and documentation of high quality mathematical software. He has contributed to the design and implementation of the following open source software packages and systems: EISPACK, LINPACK, the BLAS, LAPACK, ScaLAPACK, Netlib, PVM, MPI, NetSolve, Linpack Benchmark, Top500, ATLAS, and PAPI.

He was awarded the IEEE Sid Fernbach Award in 2004 for his contributions in the application of high performance computers using innovative approaches; in 2008 he was the recipient of the first IEEE Medal of Excellence in Scalable Computing; in 2010 he was the first recipient of the SIAM Special Interest Group on Supercomputing’s award for Career Achievement; in 2011 he was the recipient of the IEEE Charles Babbage Award; and in 2013 he was the received of the ACM/IEEE Ken Kennedy Award for his leadership in designing and promoting standards for mathematical software used to solve numerical problems common to high performance computing. He is a Fellow of the AAAS, ACM, IEEE, and SIAM and a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a member of the US National Academy of Engineering.

UT School of Art Graduate Student Contributes Artwork to the Min H. Kao Building

When you’re in the Min H. Kao building and walking down the 4th floor atrium hallway, take a moment to stop and have a look at the artwork on the wall near room 429. It was created by artist Dana Potter, who is a graduate student in printmaking here at UT.

Artist Statement


My artistic interest cultivates in the exponential integration of technology into mundane, daily life. The information gathered by online advertising organizations is used to create data-driven layouts for all users and file individualized profiles for selling merchandise. The possibility for a truly collaborative or truly individual digital experience is limited by corporate use of computer programming as a means for monetary gain. My artistic practice seeks to destabilize that model by questioning my daily, digital interactions through analog tools. Between the computer and the studio, I investigate my actions as intuitive or programmatic, passive or active, incidental or planned. Screen-printing, relief-printing, and photo-print processes are a natural way for me to trace, replicate, and modify images into variations and multiples. My artworks ask viewers to both question and celebrate the digital tools which define their daily rhythms.




In rural Iowa, just a few miles south of the Minnesota border, Dana Potter grew up in a small, tourist town called Okoboji. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Printmaking with a minor in Interactive Digital Studies from the University of Northern Iowa in 2015. Upon graduating, Potter’s major artistic accomplishments included the 2016 Southern Graphics Council International Undergraduate Fellowship Award and participation in Syracuse University’s 2014 Salt City Dozen national portfolio exchange. Following graduation Potter moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she took on a printmaking education internship at Highpoint Center for Printmaking and an art gallery assistant internship at The Soap Factory. Recently Potter’s work has been in both national and international exhibitions including the “2017 3rd Global Print,” Douro, Portugal; “2017 Beyond Printmaking 5,” Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas; and “Stand Out Prints 2016,” Highpoint Center for Printmaking, Minneapolis, MN.

Picture of Gabriel Bolas

Engineering Alumnus to Lead KUB

Tickle College of Engineering alumnus Gabriel “Gabe” Bolas II will be the new president and CEO of the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB), taking over in October 2018 from retiring CEO Mintha Roach.

Bolas earned two degrees at UT—his BS in electrical engineering in 1994 and his MS in engineering and industrial management in 2001.

Bolas joined KUB in 1995 as an engineer and has held his current position of senior vice president and chief engineer since 2017. He has served as manager of engineering systems, environmental programs, and overhead construction, and assistant to the chief operating officer. He is a member and past president and state director of the Tennessee Society of Professional Engineers, receiving the Young Engineer of the Year award in 2001 and the Engineer of the Year award in 2013.

Bolas is a member of the Leadership Knoxville class of 2018 and currently serves on the boards of Habitat for Humanity and the Sertoma Center. He is a founding member of the United Way of Greater Knoxville’s 1922 Society. He has worked closely with various environmental and development groups to create relationships between KUB and the environmental community, as well as attracting new industrial employers to the area. He served on the team that was instrumental in securing a $15 million grant for weatherization of Knoxville’s low-income homes.

Bolas and his wife, Tarah, are parents of three sons, Gabriel III, Zander, and Avery.

KUB is a municipal utility serving Knox County and parts of seven adjacent counties and provides electric, gas, water, and wastewater services to more than 457,000 customers.

Read more about Gabe Bolas II.

Picture of Dr. Fran Li with Go board and chess board

Fran Li Games the Power Grid

Professor Fran Li’s friends know him as an enthusiastic fan of board games. He competitively played Go, a strategic board game popular in East Asian countries, while in high school and college. At the time, he never thought that he would someday link his hobby with his research.

Now his Go hobby has grown into the territory of a research proposal funded by the National Science Foundation at $330,000 for three years, beginning August 2018. His project, “From AlphaGo to Power System Artificial Intelligence,” uses game-based artificial intelligence (AI) technology to investigate power-grid issues.

Picture of Dr. Fangxing "Fran" Li

Dr. Fran Li

Go, also called Weiqi or Baduk, originated in ancient China some 2,500 years ago. It is played by two people alternately placing black and white stones on a board marked with a 19-by19 square grid. The goal is to surround more territory on the board than one’s opponent, so it is sometimes literally translated as “the surrounding game.”

While Go is often compared with chess, it has a higher measure of complexity—10^170 in state space, while chess is merely 10^47. Go’s popularity has increased throughout Europe and North America in recent years, especially in academia. Mathematicians and computer scientists found that Go is one of the best targets for testing AI algorithms.

AI has made many significant achievements in gameplay in the past a few decades. The chess software DeepBlue beat the legendary chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. But the best Go AI still could not beat an average amateur Go player, let alone any professional player, because of the difficulty of mimicking a human brain’s logical reasoning ability in this complex game.

That situation changed between 2015 and 2017 when Google DeepMind’s AI program called AlphaGo defeated several world professional Go champions. This was considered such an epic milestone in both the AI and Go communities that the AI triumph was featured on the cover of Nature.

Li was immediately attracted by the success of AlphaGo. Since then, he has examined the reasons that AlphaGo can achieve what past AI efforts could not, and investigated ways to use the strategies and algorithms in AlphaGo to solve some complex problems in the field of electric power systems.

After laying out a detailed comparison of Go, AlphaGo, and some power system problems, Li proposed ideas to address a number of emerging problems in the modernized power systems under the smart-grid era, such as strategic market bidding with renewables, security assessment under multi-scenario and multi-period paradigm, and other aspects.

Li is the James W. McConnell Professor in electrical engineering and computer science and serves as the UT Campus Director for CURENT.

Read more about Li’s recently funded project.

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