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International Scholar Feature: Using computational research to tackle societal challenges

Mar 29, 2024

This article is part of a series spotlighting distinguished international scholars at IU supported by the Office of International Services at IU Bloomington and Office of International Affairs at IUPUI within IU Global.

Dingwen Tao, an associate professor at the Indiana University Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, has always been driven by the real-world potential of his work.

Dingwen Tao. Photo courtesy of the IU Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering Dingwen Tao. Photo courtesy of the IU Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering

“As an undergraduate, I knew about computational mathematics, but it was abstract to me,” Tao said. “It wasn’t until I took a closer look at the outcomes of the field that I began to understand just how far my work could reach, and what it could do.”

It was this singular revelation that sparked his commitment to computational research: the realization of how computer models could be instrumental in addressing critical societal issues. From climate modeling to natural disaster warning systems, supercomputing plays a pivotal role in tackling large-scale challenges that impact society.

Additionally, supercomputing finds application in domain-specific problems such as manufacturing, where it contributes to enhancing processes like airplane design and production. Without the power of supercomputing, scientists would be unable to conduct the groundbreaking research necessary to address these pressing issues and propel innovation forward.

Tao’s area of expertise is in streamlining the processes and mechanisms that make the real-world problem-solving possible.

“Achieving good efficiency in a system is difficult; each component must work together,” Tao said.

And that cooperation doesn’t end in theory. Tao’s journey from his undergraduate days at the University of Science and Technology in China to his current position embodies a deep understanding of the intricate interplay between individuals and systems. His path, initially marked by a curiosity about mathematical models for computing, has evolved into an in-depth exploration of intelligent systems engineering and data science.

Motivated by a desire to unravel the complexities of large-scale computation, Tao’s work reflects a commitment to building systems that seamlessly coordinate various components toward a common purpose.

IU research has delved into harnessing the power of cloud computing platforms, developing game-changing computing architecture and Tao’s own project on compression technology in production computing systems for world-class machine learning and artificial intelligence workloads. In fact, it was IU’s renowned reputation in computing research and its supportive academic environment that drew him to the university for a new chapter in his academic career.

IU plays a pivotal role in his efforts to advance computing research, thanks to its leadership in the field and the availability of state-of-the-art supercomputing machines. Tao leads a research group focusing on large-scale computation and data analytics that aims to make supercomputers like Big Red 200 more powerful while making fewer mistakes and using less energy.

His research enables faster simulations, more accurate predictions and streamlined data processing. More simply, these systems run complicated problems faster and better. Because of the cross-disciplinary uses for supercomputing, Tao’s work has partnered with IU’s Pervasive Technology Center, Cyberinfrastructure Integration Research Center, cosmologists and other scientists who work with large data systems to improve both the accuracy and relevance of their results.

IU also offers a robust platform for showcasing research through annual conferences, providing visibility and fostering collaboration within the academic community.

Tao's research focuses on large-scale computation and data analytics that aims to make supercomputers like Big Red 200 more powerful ... Tao's research focuses on large-scale computation and data analytics that aims to make supercomputers like Big Red 200 more powerful while making fewer mistakes and using less energy. Photo by Emily Kumar, Indiana University

“One of the primary goals of my work is to teach the next generation about our research and technology,” he said. “I want to give them a stable foundation to keep innovating once they leave IU.”

During November’s supercomputing conference, he reconnected with former students who have flourished post-graduation. Of the 12 alumni of his lab, nine went on to Ph.D. programs across the U.S. or directly to work for companies like Microsoft, Interactive Brokers and the International Code Council. Even current students spend their summers interning for Facebook AI, Argonne National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory, These encounters serve as powerful reminders of the impact of mentorship and the university’s role in nurturing talent.

“I’m very proud of them; it’s wonderful to see how IU has supported and guided students to success,” Tao said.

Reflecting on his journey, Tao encourages aspiring scholars to embrace interdisciplinary collaboration and step out of their comfort zones. He credits his success to that interconnected approach.

“As international scholars, we need to leverage our backgrounds. IU as a university is very culturally diverse, so we should cherish our opportunities to bring communities and perspectives together.”

Author

IU Global

Lexi Baker

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