Feature Stories 2018: Zachary Grant '13, PhD '18: Engineering and Applied Science

Zachary Grant - PhD in Engineering & Applied Science - College of Engineering
Feature Stories 2018: Zachary Grant '13, PhD '18: Engineering and Applied Science
Zachary Grant '13, PhD '18: Engineering and Applied Science

Recipient of SIAM Student Paper Prize will begin Householder Fellowship at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory

by Debbie Hazian

Research is the focus of Grant’s work

Like many scientists, Zachary Grant’s interest began at a young age. He knew little about career paths for mathematicians until his freshman year at UMass Dartmouth, when he was recruited for an undergraduate summer research program funded by the National Science Foundation.

“After joining this program, I began to realize how much I enjoyed researching new mathematical concepts and seeing the different applications where they can be used,” said Grant.

Following that summer, he worked closely with Dr. Sigal Gottlieb, professor of mathematics, on her work funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which focused on developing efficient time stepping algorithms for the numerical solution of hyperbolic conservation laws.

Some scientists use these conservation laws to model tsunamis, air flow around an airplane wing, or the behavior of black holes. These models can have solutions with quickly-changing values over small space and time scales, making them difficult to accurately simulate.

Grant’s work involves developing computer algorithms which result in accurate simulations that can run faster than those previously defined. This may allow other researchers to produce better simulations or incorporate more detailed information into their models.

“As I conducted more research, I became more enamored with the idea of conquering problems that have yet to be solved and developing theory and algorithms that one day could have an impact in the computational industry,” said Grant.

He also participated in summer research experiences and courses at Arizona State University on the mathematics of medical imaging sponsored by the National Science Foundation, two summer courses at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, and a two-week training and workshop on mathematical modeling for industrial problems.

The author of several journal publications, Grant has given conference talks and presentations throughout the U.S. and at international conferences in Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Brazil, Greece, and Canada.

Encouraged to pursue doctorate by UMass Dartmouth professors

Grant never considered pursing a doctorate, but his advisor convinced him that he had the ability and persistence to do it.

The math department faculty, said Grant, “demonstrated that they had my best interests at heart and saw potential in me as a researcher that I previously had not seen in myself. They also provided intense mentoring and career training which I would not have received at a much larger program.

“I can’t say enough about how amazing the professors in the math department are. They have gone above and beyond and have made a major impact, not only on my academics, but on my life as well,” added Grant.

Winner of the 2017 SIAM Student Paper Prize

This annual award recognizes outstanding scholarship by students in applied mathematics and computing and is awarded annually to the student author submitting the most outstanding paper in the competition.

Grant presented his winning paper, “Explicit Strong Stability Preserving Multistage Two-Derirative Time-Stepping Schemes,” co-authored with Andrew Christlieb of Michigan State University, Sigal Gottlieb of UMass Dartmouth, and David C. Seal of the United States Naval Academy. The paper was presented at the July 2017 conference and was published in the Journal of Scientific Computing in 2016.

The paper examined Grant’s research on a type of hyperbolic partial differential equations (PDEs) that are used to model many physical phenomena. In general, time stepping algorithms are used to advance a solution from one time to the next by using a starting point and measuring how fast it is changing to predict where it will be next.

“The time evolution component must also be carefully designed to ensure the simulation will produce results which are physically true to the problem we are modelling,” Grant explained.

Leadership Activities

Grant’s involvement in student life at UMass Dartmouth led to the Donald C. Howard Leadership Award as a 2018 Pillar to the Community. He was a member of the Student Government Association, a resident assistant, tutor, vice president of the SIAM student chapter, philanthropy chairman of the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity, and was treasurer and the College of Engineering representative to the Graduate Student Senate.

“I did my best to be an engaged student leader while also putting emphasis on my academics and research, and did my best to get through every day and keep looking forward,” said Grant.

Taught math classes  

“The professors agreed that they wanted all of the students in the program to have some teaching experience running our own class from beginning to end. I enjoyed teaching at my alma mater as it was a way to come full circle with my UMass Dartmouth experience,” said Grant.                                                                                                                                       

Future fellowship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory

In August, Grant will join the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, TN for three years as a Householder Fellow in computational and applied mathematics. He will work on developing time stepping algorithms used for simulations.

His professors have prepared him well for his work as a research fellow.

“They made a major emphasis on not just doing research, but being able to convey your research to different audiences. This was done by requiring presentations in almost all of my classes and sending us to as many conferences as possible.

“I am excited to move on to my next steps and become a full-time researcher at ORNL. I hope I am able to make the right decision whenever the next fork in the road comes along.”