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Graduate Student Earns NASA Fellowship to Study Light of the Early Universe

By: Cienna Madrid   Published 12:24 pm / June 28, 2017

Kathryn Drake portraitBoise State computational science and engineering graduate student Kathryn Drake recently was awarded a NASA Space Grant Consortium Fellowship for her project, titled “Data-Driven Matrix Decomposition Algorithms for Analyzing Massive Datasets Collected on a Sphere: Applications to Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation.”

As Drake explained, analyzing data collected from spherical surfaces – planets, for example – is central to many research areas affiliated with NASA. However, “many of these datasets are massive in size, which makes data analysis difficult,” Drake said. To overcome this obstacle, Drake’s project compresses data while retaining the integrity of a sphere, which allows her to run analysis on smaller amount of data while still making physical sense.

And Drake’s research is translatable to the very foundations of our universe.

“The most exciting prospective application of this work is analysis of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR),” Drake added. “This sphere of radiation is at the edge of the observable universe, and it originates from the first light that traveled after the Big Bang. The CMBR is the crux of modern cosmology because it gives insight to the state of the early universe. Specifically, researchers believe that a more acute analysis of the CMBR will reveal information on dark matter and dark energy, which collectively make up 95 percent of the observable universe.”

“I have always been fascinated with the cosmos and its contents,” she added. “This research provides the perfect opportunity for me to use mathematics to pursue this interest.”

She chose Boise State to pursue her doctorate specifically because of its new Ph.D. program in computational science and engineering, which due to its interdisciplinary nature, will allow her to combine her primary field of mathematics with those of engineering and computer science. “I am confident that pursuing this degree at Boise State will fully prepare me for a career as a researcher,” she said.

In 2017, Drake earned her master’s degree in mathematics from Boise State and credits her advisor, mathematics professor Grady Wright, for mentoring her as a researcher and through the grant application process. “Professor Wright helped me develop my skills as a researcher during my master’s program here at Boise State and I am thrilled to continue working with him for my doctorate.”

After earning her doctorate, Drake plans to work as a researcher in a national lab.