Fischer blends mechanical engineering with computer science


Tom Moone

Professor Paul Fischer comes to Illinois from Argonne National Laboratory, where he had been since 1998. Prior to that, Fischer had been a faculty member at Brown University from 1991 to 1998. He was a post-doc in applied mathematics at Caltech in 1990-91 and received his PhD in mechanical engineering from MIT in 1989.

Fischer is an expert in the area of discretizations of partial differential equations for fluid dynamics. He has been one of the pioneers in spectral element method and of parallel numerical software.

"I’ve been involved in high-performance computing since the early eighties," said Fischer. "I caught the parallel computing wave early on and I’ve been actively involved in resolving the algorithmic challenges that have come with it."

With dual appointments in MechSE and Computer Science, Fischer is currently teaching a course on computational mechanics. His research will include work on Nek5000, which is an open source spectral element code for flow simulation that will run on anything from a laptop to a million-core supercomputer.

Nek5000 is used by a variety of researchers around the world who are examining a whole host of areas that involve fluid dynamics. It is used in vascular flow modeling, heat transfer simulation for nuclear reactors, and modeling transport in the ocean. In addition it is used in research of black holes, trying to understand how and why matter falls into a black hole. Uses for NeK5000 run the gamut from very close at hand to distant, interstellar research questions.

"Supporting Nek5000 is a daily activity," said Fischer. "It’s a vehicle for algorithm research and for scientific discovery. Each application comes along with a new wrinkle. Somebody needs a new boundary condition or they take the code into a regime where it’s not really been highly optimized. We try to analyze the numerical issues so that scientists and engineers can pursue their research questions."

Fischer received the first Center for Research on Parallel Computation Prize Fellowship from Caltech in 1990. He also received the Gordon Bell Prize for High-Performance Computing in 1999 and the University of Chicago Distinguished Performance Award in 2009. In 2012, Fischer was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for outstanding technical contributions in CFD and fluid flow simulations on extreme-scale computers.