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Caroline Gatti-Bono Named Second Alvarez Fellow in Computational Science

October 15, 2002

As a computational science fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Caroline Gatti-Bono's research is reaching new heights. She's currently working to create algorithms for studying how atmospheric effects caused by high mountain ranges, such as the Andes, affect climate on the plains below.

Gatti-Bono is carrying out this work as the second recipient of the Luis Alvarez Postdoctoral Fellowship in Computational Science and a member of the Lab's Applied Numerical Algorithms Group. The fellowship is sponsored by the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center and the Computational Research Division at Berkeley Lab.

Modeling high-altitude forces is a big move up for Gatti-Bono. As a graduate student at the University of Michigan, her computational science research took her from the depths of the oceans, modeling the fast response of underwater cables to extreme undersea conditions, to the surfaces of rivers, as she applied her models to the dynamics of fly-fishing.

"I was looking for a change from mechanical engineering, and climate modeling is quite a change," said Gatti-Bono, who earned her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and scientific computing. "This is more applied math than engineering."

Although her new research area is a big change, Gatti-Bono said moving to the San Francisco Bay Area from Ann Arbor is an easy adjustment.

"There's a very international flavor here and it's easy to feel at home," said Gatti-Bono, who grew up outside the French capital and earned her Diplôme d'Ingénieur from the École Nationale Supérieure de Techniques Avancées in Paris.

She came to the United States through an international program sponsored by her school in France. She also considered universities in Canada and Sweden, but chose Michigan.

"What made me decide for the U.S. was the fact that no other country offered the same level and quality of research as part of the education," she said. "Michigan gave me a fellowship," which clinched it. She also had friends studying at Michigan, where she earned her master's degree in a year and a half, then stayed another two years to complete her doctorate.

Her initial research was in modeling cable dynamics and trying to understand the factors that can damage undersea cables as they are laid across undersea mountains and then buffeted by currents. Understanding how cables react to fast instabilities can help avoid kinking and buckling, which impair the capability of communications cables. The same code she developed for this problem also turned out to be applicable to studying the coupled dynamics of the rod and line used in fly-fishing. While her advisor was passionate about the sport, Gatti-Bono's hands-on experiments were her introduction to fishing. She did end up polishing her technique by pursuing feline fishing games with her cat.

After her husband was hired at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, she began looking around for opportunities and found Berkeley Lab. A professor in the Mathematics Department at the University of Michigan was familiar with the ongoing research in scientific computing done here and highly recommended the Lab to her.

"This group has developed a lot of methods for studying fluid dynamics, and now we are applying that experience to climate modeling," she said. "There's a real need to model the climate effects of mountain ranges, and now we're starting to build the tools to do that."

The Alvarez fellowship, named for Dr. Luis W. Alvarez, the Nobel Laureate and physicist who worked at Berkeley Lab, was established to encourage the development and application of tools to advance scientific research. In the 1950s, Alvarez opened a new era in high-energy physics research with his proposal to build a pressurized chamber filled with liquid hydrogen. Known as a "bubble chamber," this device would allow scientists to discover new particles and analyze their behavior. In his 1955 prospectus for such an experimental facility, Alvarez became one of the first scientists to propose using computing devices for analyzing experimental data, even before such computers were actually available.

By the 1960s, Alvarez's vision was reality. His colleagues at Berkeley Lab were using computers to track some 1.5 million particle physics events annually and developed scientific computing techniques which were adopted by researchers around the world. This effort led to Alvarez receiving the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1968.