Brown mathematician earns prestigious Early Career Award from U.S. Department of Energy

The five-year, $875,000 grant will help Brendan Keith to develop new numerical methods for scientific computing and optimal design.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brendan Keith, an assistant professor of applied mathematics at Brown University, is one of 93 scientists nationwide to receive a 2023 Early Career Award from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The awards provide researchers with $875,000 over five years. They aim to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce by supporting promising researchers at the outset of their careers, a time when many scientists do their most formative work, according to the Department of Energy.

At Brown, Keith leads a research team using numerical analysis and optimization principles to develop computer algorithms and data-driven mathematical models. He uses these tools, or numerical methods, to tackle challenging engineering problems written as partial differential equations, which are equations used to model physical systems mathematically and whose solutions lie in the infinite-dimensional spaces of functions. In particular, Keith’s work focuses on creating tools that computers can use to study complicated physical environments that are governed by mathematical models that often have no analytical solutions, such as turbulent wind interactions with high-rise buildings.

“We use ideas from numerical analysis that allow us to discretize those problems — meaning turn them into a finite-dimensional version of the original scientific problem or engineering problem that we're studying — and then efficiently solve these discrete approximations on computers,” Keith said. “That's often what my research involves. It's bridging this gap between finite- and infinite-dimensional worlds.”

Keith has created new numerical methods for computer simulations and for wave and fluid mechanics problems in physics. He was recently part of a team that developed a new machine-learning technique to derive the governing equations for black hole motion from gravitational waves.

“These problems are just fascinating to me,” Keith added. “We’re trying to help push the envelope of what's achievable in modern world of scientific computing.”

Keith will use his grant to continue and expand his work on developing scalable numerical methods for optimization, the branch of mathematics devoted to solving problems that make the best or most effective use of a situation or resource. The funding will also support the recruitment and assistance of a postdoctoral researcher who will contribute to coding and algorithm development — a critical aspect of Keith's research.

Since its inception in 2010, the Early Career Research Program has made 868 awards, with 564 awards to university researchers and 304 awards to researchers in national labs. Keith is the second recipient from Brown in the past three years. Kemp Plumb, an assistant professor of physics, received the award in 2020.