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Computing Sciences’ Deb Agarwal and Kathy Yelick Receive Director’s Awards

November 12, 2020

By Jon Bashor

Contact: [email protected]

Deb Agarwal, head of the Data Science and Technology Department in the Computational Research Division, and Kathy Yelick, former Associate Lab Director for Computing Sciences, will be presented with the Berkeley Lab Citation at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s 2020 Director’s Awards at 3 p.m. on Thursday, November 12.

The Berkeley Lab Citation “Honors extraordinary achievement(s) in broad categories of science and operations, with special focus on service to the Lab and/or the DOE National Lab Complex.”

Agarwal and Yelick have both led lab research organizations as well as taken on important assignments at state, national, and international levels.

Agarwal: Leadership in Data Science and Technology

Deb Agarwal

Deb Agarwal

Agarwal’s citation recognizes her “intellectual and strategic leadership in data science and technology at Berkeley Lab, and for the design and development of data systems to address critical scientific problems in support of DOE’s research missions.”

Since she joined the lab in 1994, Agarwal has worked on a range of pioneering distributed data collection projects that helped build the foundation that made scientific collaborations mainstream today. In the late 1990s, she served as an expert to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization at the United Nations in Vienna, developing methods of robustly transmitting data from a network of global monitoring stations.

Agarwal has been developing tools to help improve the collection, organization, and analysis of water-related data since 2006, when she helped found the Berkeley Water Center as a collaboration between Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley. Much of her work has been in support of data collection by AmeriFlux, a network of locally managed sites measuring ecosystem CO2, water, and energy fluxes in North, Central, and South America.

Agarwal has held lead roles in the Institute for the Design of Advanced Energy Systems (IDAES) project focused on improving the efficiency of power plants and DOE’s Carbon Capture Simulation Initiative(CCSI) that accelerates the development and deployment cycle for new carbon capture technologies. She is also the Deputy Task Area Lead for Modeling and Simulation for the new National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI), a $100 million hub to advance technologies to treat nontraditional water sources.

At the same time, she single-handedly led her department through a comprehensive funding recovery strategy in the mid-2000s that revitalized the research of the department, created a network of science-focused partnerships, and built a strong team expanding expertise to surrogate modeling, machine learning, and user experience. 

Today, she leads the department of over 50 staff who work on many mission-critical projects for the lab in domains including earth sciences, chemical engineering, nuclear physics, chemistry, and materials science. She holds an International Chair at Inria Rennes Bretagne Atlantique and is a Berkeley Institute for Data Science Senior Fellow. A strong advocate for diversity and inclusion of women and minorities and mentoring the next generation of scientists, Agarwal received the Director’s Award for Exceptional Achievement in 2015 for her work in support of diversity at the lab.

According to the nomination submitted on her behalf, “Dr. Agarwal’s research efforts over the years have been pivotal in addressing the needs of scientific communities. Her innovative work in data cyberinfrastructure has established Berkeley Lab as the expert for data cyberinfrastructure for DOE’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research’s environmental efforts leading to increased funding and a number of strategic initiatives. Dr. Agarwal has laid a strong foundation for Berkeley Lab to deal with scientific data through her scientific vision, deep understanding of the diverse scientific goals of multidisciplinary global communities and the social factors around data, mastery of the technologies needed to create a new data-sharing infrastructure, and leadership skills to bring together diverse teams to address key challenges.”

Yelick: Leadership at the Lab and in Shaping DOE Policy

Kathy Yelick

Kathy Yelick

Yelick’s citation recognizes her “extraordinary leadership both within the Lab and at the national level, including her significant role in developing DOE strategy in Exascale and Quantum Computing, Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence.”

Yelick joined the faculty of UC Berkeley in 1991 and after joining Berkeley Lab with a dual appointment as a faculty scientist in 1996, she held a succession of positions from which she was able to help steer the development and deployment of new computing software and systems that help researchers tackle critical problems in science and engineering. As Associate Laboratory Director (ALD) for Computing Sciences, Yelick oversaw the financing and construction of Shyh Wang Hall, which opened in November 2015 as home to the Computing Sciences Area, bringing together staff and resources from the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), and the Computational Research Division. During that time she was elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

She oversaw the emergence of Berkeley Quantum, the lab’s cross-disciplinary leadership in quantum information sciences that grew out of the LDRD program. More recently, the Machine Learning for Science initiative has energized researchers across the Lab in developing and applying new methods to address important scientific problems. At the national level, she worked with senior managers across the DOE national lab complex to launch the Exascale Computing Initiative, the largest DOE project of its kind. The ensuing Exascale Computing Project (ECP) is developing the critical applications and software needed to make effective use of exascale-capable hardware. 

Yelick has helped steer state and federal policy as a member of the National Academies Computer Science and Telecommunications Board and the California Council on Science and Technology. As a member of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, she was a contributing author to the 2011 report "The Future of Computing Performance: Game Over or Next Level?."  In July 2018, she was one of four witnesses testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space, and Technology about the challenges of big data and advanced computing solutions.

In addition to serving as NERSC Division Director (2007-10) and ALD for Computing Sciences (2010-19), Yelick maintained her own research portfolio to improve the programmability of HPC systems through innovations to parallel languages and runtime systems. She leads the Exascale Computing Project’s ExaBiome Project, which has the ambitious goal of transforming the analysis of genomic data—especially microbial data—using high performance data analytics.

On Jan. 1, 2020, Yelick stepped down as ALD to focus on her research and teaching at UC Berkeley, where she is the Robert S. Pepper Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and associate dean of research in the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society. She remains a senior advisor on computing for Lab Director Mike Witherell and in early 2020 was tapped by Energy Secretary Brouillette to serve as co-lead of a DOE tiger team looking at how HPC resources and expertise can help meet FEMA's needs in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.