Carol Woodward Helps Scientists Solve Diverse Challenges
The daughter of an engineer, computational scientist Carol Woodward knew from an early age that she wanted to study math and science and to attend graduate school. “I had some inspiring high school teachers who talked about how great it is to experience such intense study in one field. I knew that was what I wanted,” she says. At college, she explored various science majors, but mathematics, her first love, kept drawing her back.
An internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory further set Carol on a career course that has proven both successful and fulfilling. There she met her future thesis advisor, several future colleagues—and the man she’d later marry. “It was a pivotal summer for me, and it really points to the value of internships, both personally and professionally,” she observes.
That summer experience, and her advisor’s suggestion, later prompted her to pursue postdoctoral study at another national lab, after completing her Ph.D. in computational and applied math at Rice University. Carol recalls, “My advisor mentioned some interesting groundwater work going on at Livermore under Steve Ashby. I came and interviewed, and I loved the environment and the people.”
Carol joined the then-brand-new Center for Applied Scientific Computing, first as a postdoc and then as a staff researcher, and has been there ever since. CASC has developed a reputation over the years, she notes, as an organization that can solve tough problems, so she and her colleagues are asked to consult on a diverse array of projects. “It’s nice because it means I can work at the same place and not be stuck just doing one thing—I get to keep changing it up,” she says.
Carol was one of 15 early- and mid-career scientists and engineers recognized for exceptional technical achievement by the Laboratory in 2015. Her specialty is developing and delivering nonlinear solvers and time integration methods to the scientific simulation community. She has worked with numerous domain scientists to improve the efficiency and robustness of applications, allowing the first-ever or largest simulations in many different areas, from supernovae to groundwater flow.
In fact, some of Carol’s most impactful efforts have stemmed from the groundwater project that first drew her to the Lab. For instance, a novel nonlinear solution strategy she developed and implemented in the ParFlow code for modeling variably saturated subsurface flow in large-scale systems is now used worldwide for watershed simulation and climate analysis. She’s currently involved in a Department of Energy (DOE) project to use ParFlow for watershed simulations of the continental United States. “These are big models, and there’s some exciting math at play,” she notes.
Carol also serves as lead developer and “curator” for LLNL’s Suite of Nonlinear and Differential/Algebraic Solvers (SUNDIALS), a workhorse package of time integrators and nonlinear solvers that garners more than 4,000 downloads annually and is used in myriad simulation-dependent applications. Her group’s technical contributions to the software have modernized it and upgraded its functionality, enabling it to scale to DOE’s highest-end computing systems. Further, Carol’s SUNDIALS expertise has prompted her involvement in several new initiatives, such as an LLNL project to develop a transmission power grid simulator that relies heavily on SUNDIALS.
Involvement in the broader computational science community is also important to Carol. She co-chairs the Joint Committee on Women in the Mathematical Sciences, a forum representing eight mathematical societies. In addition, she has served in elected offices on the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) Council, on the Association for Women in Mathematics Executive Committee, and in the SIAM activity groups on Geosciences and Computational Science and Engineering, and she frequently leads or serves on conference organizing committees.
When not supporting scientists in their modeling and simulation efforts, Carol likes to run and play classical guitar.
I work with scientists who simulate various physical phenomena to solve their mathematical models accurately and efficiently on state-of-the-art high performance computers. My work focuses on the mathematical methods and in particular how we find the solution to problems whose solutions evolve in time and have components dependent on each other (nonlinearities).
Outside of work, I like to play classical guitar.