Magnetic leadership and stellar coding: NatSci's Chelsea Harris named Howes Scholar

  • Jul 12, 2019
  • computational science, Frederick A. Howes Scholar, postdoctoral researchers, Award
  • Homepage News, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Research, College of Natural Science, Physics & Astronomy
Headshot of Chelsea Harris
Chelsea Harris, a postdoctoral researcher in MSU's Department of Physics and Astronomy, is the recipient of a 2019 Frederick A. Howes Scholar in Computational Science Award. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Harris.

Chelsea Harris, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Michigan State University College of Natural Science (NatSci), is the recipient of a 2019 Frederick A. Howes Scholar in Computational Science Award.

The award is given to recent graduates of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (CSGF) program who demonstrate not only technical achievements in the field of computational science, but also outstanding leadership and character.

An alumna of the program, Harris was eligible to receive the highly prestigious honor in memory of Frederick A. Howes, the manager of DOE’s Applied Mathematical Sciences Program during the 1990s who was highly respected for his leadership abilities. Harris will receive $1,000, a crystal paperweight and the title of Howes Scholar.

“I feel honored to have received this award, especially when there are so many others putting in hours to help change academic policies and culture,” said Harris, who joined MSU in 2018 after completing her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in astrophysics from the University of California, Berkeley. “I am proud to be a part of the CSGF community that recognizes researchers’ broader efforts through this unique award. To have won one of the few titles of Howes Scholar is, in itself, an honor.”

As a postdoctoral researcher at MSU, Harris implements state-of-the-art codes for high-order calculations of supernovae from massive stars with rotating cores. In these systems, the star’s magnetic fields and rotation interact, generating more powerful explosions.

“Chelsea is incredibly deserving of this award, recognizing not only her achievements in advancing computational modeling of supernovae but also her contributions as a young leader and role model in the field,” said Sean Couch, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and lead investigator of the DOE Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing program that supports Harris’ research. “Both during her Ph.D. studies and now as a postdoc, Chelsea has tackled research problems that are extremely challenging mathematically, physically and computationally. Her remarkable work ethic and very high level of technical know-how have allowed her to be uniquely successful.

“I’m ecstatic that Chelsea is receiving the Howes Scholar Award,” Couch continued. “These kinds of accolades can have an enormous impact on early career scientists in physics and astronomy, and Chelsea earned it."

Harris’ research is just one aspect of her work being recognized as a Howes Scholar. She lectures publicly about the science of Star Wars—occasionally in costume. Throughout her academic career, she has worked as a mentor and mental health advocate, drawing on her experience in overcoming issues as a doctoral student. At Michigan State, she is one of three coordinators for the Stellar Mentorship program, an astronomy department initiative that offers broad-based career support from the undergraduate level to faculty.

As part of the award, Harris will deliver a lecture on July 15 at the DOE CSGF Annual Program Review in Arlington, Va., where she will discuss her work implementing high order magnetohydrodynamic method into the FLASH code. Her lecture will cover how stellar magnetic fields and rotation play a role in supernovae and the origin of the elements, the difficulties involved in simulating those fields and the novel approaches MSU researchers are taking to tackle the challenge.

“I'm hoping to sneak in a tiny shout-out to mental health awareness as well,” Harris added.


Banner image: A volume rendering of a three-dimensional FLASH simulation of a magnetized, rotating stellar core going supernova and developing jets. As a postdoc at MSU, Harris runs simulations like this on machines at the Argonne National Lab and works to improve the modules in FLASH that produce similar simulations to make them more accurate. Image courtesy of Sean Couch.

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