STEM-Trek Scholar Profile: Laura Nichols (Austin Peay State University)

by Guest Blogger Bobby Hollingsworth (V-Tech/Harvard), with assistance from Erica Corder (V-Tech)

Laura Nichols was among 66 students from dozens of U.S. colleges and universities who attended the Practice & Experience in Advanced Research Computing (PEARC17) conference this week. Her travel to New Orleans was supported by her university and STEM-Trek donations from Google, Micron Foundation and the Science Gateways Community Institute.

One day, Nichols hopes to make her work in high performance computing (HPC) openly-accessible to scientists around the globe. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in physics from Clarksville, Tennessee-based Austin Peay State University, Nichols will enroll in a physics master’s program at the University of Memphis this fall.

Nichols credits her involvement with HPC to Austin Peay XSEDE Campus Champion Justin Oelgoetz, her research, and a course that gave her access to Blue Waters, one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. The course taught Nichols how to leverage openMP and openMPI to write efficient software for computationally demanding tasks — knowledge that can conserve resources and increase the pace of her research.

Nichols applies HPC to her current projects, one of which focuses on optimizing novel materials in an array of applications. Nichols has logged over 100 hours optimizing MATLAB code to solve problems with as many as 20 input variables, and applying genetic algorithms to fit the data. In the future, Nichols hopes to port her code to other platforms such as C or Fortran.

No stranger to research conferences, Nichols claims that her experiences with modeling day, presenting a poster, and meeting many other researchers have been the highlights of her PEARC17 experience.

Of all of the conferences I’ve attended, PEARC is unique because of the effort they make to connect students with scientists and industry leaders,” Nichols said. “In the long run, those connections will help students get to where they want to be in their careers,” she added.

Long-term, Nichols aims to pursue a Ph.D. in physics and work in intellectually-stimulating research. When asked about specific research questions, Nichols indicated that she is motivated by “challenging and complex” problems to solve, and plans to be a lifelong learner.

Outside of academics, Nichols played softball for her alma mater and seeks opportunities to be active through sports and running. She also sings and plays the piano, and often contributes to original pieces.


The PEARC17 Student Program is chaired by Alana Romanella (Virginia Tech). Program committee members include: Kate Cahill (Oklahoma State University); Peter Enstrom (NCSA); Ricardo Gonzalez (University of Puerto Rico/Mayagüez); Elizabeth Leake (STEM-Trek); Melissa Romanus (Rutgers); Semir Sarajilik (Georgia State University); and Ester Soriano (NCSA).


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