Research at Berkeley


Ermias Assefa and Steve Harnish

Ermias Assefa ’22

research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Ermias Assefa ’22, a mathematics major and computer science minor from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, will complete research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, this summer.

“It’s big and there are a lot of experienced people there,” said Assefa. “I want to gain as much knowledge as possible and to learn more about what I really love—math and the application of math.”

The experience will build on three previous internships from the Shodor Educational Foundation with the XSEDE EMPOWER program. During those experiences, Assefa worked in the area of materials science using computer simulations. In essence, Assefa used supercomputers to look at novel arrangements of atomic elements. By simulating new materials on supercomputers, researchers can predict which would be best to actually develop and test in the laboratory.

This summer, Assefa will focus his attention on Field Programmable Gate Arrays, using special programming languages to tweak the circuitry of this hardware. One possible application from the research is the development of new materials to support solar photovoltaic technologies.

Assefa was introduced to Berkeley Lab through Dr. Stephen Harnish, professor of mathematics. Harnish was invited to Berkeley Lab to participate in the Sustainable Research Pathways conference in 2019. The experience helped steer Harnish’s interests in molecular dynamics simulations from those motivated by theoretical physics to more pragmatic ones.

Mentored by Harnish, Assefa presented at the Sustainable Research Pathways program held virtually in fall 2021. The conference is organized by the Sustainable Horizons Institute and Berkeley Lab.

“I had the chance to meet some students from universities like MIT and Berkeley through workshops and share my ideas,” said Assefa. “I was able to talk to them about what I feel really passionate about.”

Impressed with his work, Assefa was invited to apply for the summer research experience and was selected.

“We thought, let’s apply and see what happens because it’s competitive,” said Assefa, who was happy just to network. “It caught me by surprise when they said we would love for you to visit.”

Assefa will complete his studies at Bluffton in December and is currently applying to graduate programs.