A University of New Mexico grad student is looking ahead after winning a prestigious national fellowship.

David Vargas, a UNM Ph.D. student in applied mathematics, was named the recipient of Sandia National Laboratories ‘John von Neumann Postdoctoral Fellowship’ in Computational Science.

According to Sandia Labs, this is one of their most prestigious postdoctoral fellowships with funding from the Applied Mathematics Research Program within the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research.

“My overwhelming emotion was just, feeling humbled, feeling very honored,” Vargas said. “It’s more than I ever expected to come out of getting my Ph.D. at UNM.”

Vargas presentation
Vargas at the SIAM Conference on Parallel Processing for Scientific Computing in Baltimore, March 2024.

Vargas says it came down to four finalists, two of those finalists were students at UNM. 

“I looked at all the past fellows and predominantly all of them came from big schools, MIT, Yale, Harvard, not a single one that I could see came from UNM," Vargas said. "To be the first student from UNM to get the fellowship is pretty cool.”

Vargas’s research has focused on parallel-in-time methods for chaotic dynamical systems, leading to the first known results of meaningful speedup in the time dimension for computational simulations of chaotic systems.

“We’re trying to solve simulations faster by running it on more computers," he said. “The only way to speed up these things in the long term is by having more computers and having them do more parallel work,” 

He will spend the next two years at Sandia continuing his parallel processing for high-performance computing research through the fellowship.

“A few other experts and I are projecting (this research) to become extremely important in the next decade or two," Vargas said. "We’re trying to lay the groundwork for that in the future.”

While the Albuquerque native started his college career as a Chemistry major before switching to math, he says this fellowship is an opportunity to decide where his degrees will take him later on, whether it be a lab or the classroom. 

“Right now, I’m really enjoying research and the specific research I’m doing," Vargas said. “But at some point, I would like to become a professor.”

Vargas is no stranger to awards, after receiving his bachelor's in applied mathematics from UNM in 2020, he snagged one of three student paper awards at the 2022 Copper Mountain Conference on Iterative Methods and in 2023 at the Copper Mountain Conference on Iterative and Multi-grid Methods. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program also awarded him an Honorable Mention.

Vargas is set to graduate from UNM this summer.