In A Solid State

In A Solid State

Alum Doug Campbell smiling and posing with electric vehicle charging station

Roberto E. Rosales (’96 BFA, ’14 MA)

UNM grad helps spark electric vehicle revolution

In A Solid State

By Leslie Linthicum

When Doug Campbell was a skater punk in Albuquerque in the 1980s, The University of New Mexico campus was his skate park. Unfocused in school and happy to buck authority, he rode the ramps and sidewalks of campus, one step ahead of the university police.

Campbell went on to earn two degrees from UNM, a bachelor’s in civil engineering in 2001 and master’s a year later, and took several classes from Gerald May, who happened to have been the president of UNM when Campbell was getting chased off campus by UNM police.

Well, no hard feelings on either side.

Campbell had finished his bachelor’s and was unenthused about the traditional career paths for a civil engineer. As Campbell’s undergraduate advisor, May saw a saw a young man struggling to figure out his future.

“He was one of those students who was driven, exceptionally bright. He was focused,” May says. “And he was restless, in the sense of wanting to do more.”

“Doug,” May told him, “you’re destined for great things, but if you can’t decide what you want to be, go to graduate school and you’ll better see your path.” 

“And,” May says today, “he did.”

In graduate school, Campbell found his passion in aerospace and in solving complex problems.

Today, he is an entrepreneur who sold an aerospace startup two years ago and is CEO of a next-generation battery company that has deals with Ford and BMW.

Blessed by his success, Campbell just donated $5 million to the School of Engineering, earmarked for the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering. The gift is without restrictions except for one: The department will be named for May. 

When he made the gift and specified the department be named for May, Campbell wanted to honor a man who helped change his life.

 “He is such a phenomenal individual,” Campbell says. “He was such a humble and phenomenal teacher. I just developed an immense amount of respect for him.”

Doug Campbell in blue polo shirt with soft lighting behind

Finding the Path

Campbell, who splits his time between Longmont, on the Colorado Front Range, and Gunnison, on Colorado’s Western Slope, has arrived in Albuquerque to look for an apartment for his eldest son, Ethan, who begins UNM as a transfer student this year. He drove down from Boulder County in his Porsche Taycan, a sleek rocket of an EV that can get to 60 in three and a half seconds. “Amazing,” is Campbell’s assessment of his electric ride.

Not yet 50 and with a startup cash-out behind him and another one in the high-stakes and lucrative race for the best EV battery technology, Campbell could be one of those arrogant Silicon Valley tech bros he likes to call an unprintable name. 

Instead, he’s casual and funny, ready to tell an embarrassing story on himself (his personal website is and he describes himself as a battery nerd) and just as ready to admit to the luck that’s got him to where he is today.

“There’s always luck,” Campbell says. “But I also saw that we as a society are moving toward an electrified future.”

Campbell’s parents met at St. Pius High School in Albuquerque and Campbell was born in Mountain View, Calif., where his father was stationed in the Navy. His mother, Mary, was 18 when she gave birth and shortly after found herself divorced and back in Albuquerque.

Until she married Campbell’s stepdad when he was 10, “She was a single mom and basically said, ‘I gotta do something with my life,’” Campbell recalls. “And she went to UNM and got a degree in civil engineering. I grew up on campus. I would putz around and go to the
Duck Pond. She would take me to school and say, ‘I gotta go to class; entertain yourself.’”

His mother, who died in 2006, was one of the reasons Campbell chose to study engineering when he finally enrolled in UNM in his mid 20s.

His path to college was anything but traditional and that has a lot to do with hormones.

“Pre-puberty Doug was very active, very athletic,” Campbell says. “Post-puberty Doug was a shitshow. Always in trouble. Causing hell. Very anti-authority.”

Campbell barely got through Albuquerque High School and didn’t even consider going to college. Luckily, he found the sport of mountain biking and managed to get very good at it.

He turned pro in 1997 and spent the remainder of the decade racing all over the country on the national circuit. As he focused and matured, Campbell started taking some courses at what is now Central New Mexico Community College. His last full-time racing season was 1999, when Campbell, then 26, realized he needed a second act.

He enrolled at UNM as nearly a junior thanks to his CNM credits and chose engineering because he didn’t know what he wanted to do and it was the family business. Campbell raced through his undergraduate degree, finishing in 2001 just in time to realize that designing bridges and roads and sewage plants wasn’t his thing.

With May’s advice to keep searching for his niche in grad school, Campbell connected with Prof. Arup Maji, who was doing research on materials for spacecraft components and space structures and was associated with the Air Force Research Laboratory. Campbell found an area of engineering that excited him and he finished his master’s degree in a year, spending most of his time working in the Space Structures Group at the research lab. 

“He was always a top student,” says Maji, who funded Campbell’s master’s work and chaired his thesis committee.” When Campbell graduated, May wrote some letters of recommendation.

“This young man is destined for something exceptional,” he wrote. “Whatever he is going to set out to do he will accomplish.”

Campbell, with his wife, nurse Arishanda Campbell (‘00 BSN), left for the mountains of Colorado and worked in design and program development for a company that creates composite materials for harsh environments and another R&D company that had battery technology in its portfolio.

Frustrated with management, Campbell broke out on his own in 2012 and co-founded ROCCOR, a space deployables and small satellite component products company that started as the prototypical two guys in a garage and after some lean years grew to employ dozens and develop technology to remove some of the millions of pieces of debris in space.

Simultaneously, Campbell co-founded Solid Power in 2012, as a spinoff from the University of Colorado Boulder. In just 10 years, Solid Power has designed and is producing a different kind of battery for the electric vehicle market.

Since he stepped down as CEO at ROCCOR in 2018 and sold the company in 2020, Solid Power is his only focus and the company is closing in on mass-market production of its battery cell.

Doug Campell with electric car charging
Thin layers of a sulfide-based electrolyte bound for battery cells on the production line at Solid Power.

Thin layers of a sulfide-based electrolyte bound for battery cells on the production line at Solid Power.

A Better Cell

Ask Campbell to explain his product and the engineer in him takes pen to paper and draws it out.

Chargeable lithium-ion batteries store energy by drawing ions from the cathode (plus) side to the anode (negative) side through a porous separator encased in a liquid electrolyte. They produce power by reversing that process and releasing electrons. That system has four components: the cathode and anode, electrolyte liquid and a polymer separator.

It is the kind of battery that currently powers the EVs on the road today.

An all-solid-state battery uses the same cathode/anode system but replaces the electrolyte liquid and polymer separator with a single component called an electrolyte separator.

“It is a discreet solid layer,” Campbell says, “so think Oreo cookie: creamy filling and your two little sandwiches.” 

By replacing the two components with one solid state package that is more energy-dense, the vehicle’s range can increase by 30 to 50 percent, Campbell says. And because an all-solid-state battery is stable across a wide temperature range, auto manufacturers may be able to eliminate the costly cooling technology they build into electric vehicles.

“At the end of the day this works to deliver higher range and lower cost. That’s why Ford and BMW are working with us,” he says.

The proprietary component that Solid Power is delivering to Ford and BMW is the electrolyte separator.

 “Broadly it’s a sulfide-based electrolyte,” Campbell says. Solid Power synthesizes the electrolyte as a powder, then turns it into a slurry (think cake batter), which is pumped into a machine similar to a printing press that pumps out thin layers that are stacked into a cell about the size of an iPad; a process very similar to how today’s lithium-ion batteries are produced.

The company is in pilot production, making hundreds per week.

Solid Power provides only the cells to the automakers, who design the battery packs. Campbell estimates his cells will be in EV models as soon as 2027.

His path from mountain biker to successful entrepreneur with millions to donate to his alma mater can look like a head scratcher. But Campbell sees it all as a perfect arc.

“I have over-the-top ambition. It’s how I’m wired. I’m always go, go, go, go, go. I’m just driven,” Campbell says. “And I’d argue that cycling primed me for business.”

Training all the time, watching your eating, weight and sleep and knowing that not winning a race isn’t failure are fundamentals for an endurance athlete.

 “You can’t worry about yesterday’s results, you’ve just got to just train, train, train,” Campbell says. “And that’s the same thing in business. You have to be persistent. You have to ride the highs and the lows. You can’t get too excited in the highs and you can’t get too bummed out in the lows. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy and you’ll flame out.”

Maji, the engineering professor who funded Campbell’s graduate work, is surprised by the speed and level of Campbell’s success, but not that he’s made it big.

 “I’m not surprised in the context of his personality and caliber and zeal to do something different,” Maji says. “He was always a top student. And looking back, I can see why, given the traits that he had, he could certainly blossom into a very successful entrepreneur.”

Doug Campell poses with electric vehicle charging station

Giving Back

When Campbell made the gift and specified the department be named for May, Campbell wanted to honor a man who helped change his life.

“I’m greatly honored,” says May, who retired from UNM in 2002 and is 81. “I see a young man who has accomplished extraordinary success at a young age. Quite exceptional. And I think it’s exceptional at this young age that he’s looking to benefit his school.”

Campbell readily admits he is not Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates or Elon Musk. “Five million sounds like a lot, but at the end of the day it’s not,” he says.

So he wanted his gift to be targeted to a small corner of the world that means something to him.

“It’s always been Albuquerque,” Campbell says. “Because even though I don’t live here I’ve always had a passion for this place. Because there’s goodness here. New Mexicans are good people. They’re very down-to-earth people. And UNM is competing with phenomenal research institutions, and I do think it punches above its weight, but it’s located in a relatively small state. I want to make my little corner of the world ­— the civil engineering department — more competitive.”

Campbell hopes his gift, which will endow a fund to be used at the discretion of the the Civil Engineering Department chair, will help to sweeten the pot to attract and retain world-class faculty.

Part of the plan is to help UNM compete with larger, better-funded universities in the competitive world of startups and spinoffs, a passion close to Campbell’s heart.

“I’m an Albuquerque kid who’s now running a company that the business community pits against spinoffs from Stanford and MIT,” Campbell says. “I’m not intimidated by anybody who comes out of these blue-chip universities.”

Fall 2022 Mirage Magazine Features


Courageous Career

Courageous Career

Ingela Onstad at a desk with microphone

Roberto E. Rosales (’96 BFA, ’14 MA)

Opera singer pivots to performance coaching

Courageous Career

By Amanda Gardner

Performing on some of the biggest stages in Europe and the United States, soprano Ingela Onstad has felt the highs and lows of being a performer.

The highs: Singing at the Santa Fe Opera and Dresden’s Staatsoperett and mastering a piece for Mahler’s Fourth Symphony in just one night so she could fill in for a sick cast member. The lows: Shaking hands, knees and voice and forgotten lyrics.

Now Onstad (’14 MM, ’17 MA) takes her training and experience to a new venue, an Albuquerque-based coaching business called Courageous Artistry, which helps others overcome stage fright, build confidence and achieve career goals.

When Onstad first hung out her shingle (a largely virtual shingle thanks to the pandemic), she catered primarily to other singers and performers, but has now expanded her clientele to include instrumentalists and even professional football referees.

“I can help all humans with these skills. It’s pertinent to people’s lives,” says Onstad, who holds master’s degrees in both voice performance and mental health counseling from UNM and counts some 15 to 25 coaching clients, most of them in North America (including Canada) and Europe.

Most of the issues come down to the basic human emotion of fear.

“Fear is deeply woven into our biology,” Onstad explains. “Fear of judgment, fear of criticism.”

Coaching usually starts with cognitive work on how the brain works, the biological fundamentals of fear. “Our natural factory setting is a lot of negative thoughts,” she says. “We assess whether that is helpful or harmful.”

Once her clients understand this basis of fear she then helps them outline their goals, and then moves forward using various cognitive and emotional tools.

Nikki Kelder, an actress and singer in New York City, came to Onstad in November 2020 for help dealing with “extreme anxiety” in auditions and self-sabotaging. Through visualization, breathing techniques, goal setting, books, worksheets, podcasts and more, Kelder has learned to identify how she undercuts herself so she can show up better in auditions. “I began to feel more hopeful and positive about the audition process,” she says.

Onstad herself has been auditioning since she was a preteen in Santa Fe. Because few young people were studying voice in Santa Fe at the time, she stood out, something which helped build her confidence from the beginning. “I was a big fish,” she remembers. “I was one of the best ones around.”

Ingela Onstad performing the opera La Boheme

She continued to perform in junior high and high school, started singing professionally when she was 18 and then moved on to ever bigger ponds. She was accepted into the renowned voice program at McGill University in Montreal where she was among many fellow students who went on to build international reputations. She recalls her “jaw hitting the floor” when she listened to master’s and doctoral students sing during weekly studio sessions.

From there, Onstad moved to even bigger stages, this time in Germany. Had she stayed in the U.S., she likely would have had to operate as a freelancer (much like Kelder). In Europe, vocal artists are hired by certain opera houses, with contracts lasting a number of years. Over the span of about a decade, Onstad worked at opera houses in three different cities.

In Europe, she performed opera at Dresden’s Staatsoperette, Oldenburgisches Staatstheater and Landestheater Schleswig-Holstein. In the U.S., she has sung at the Santa Fe Opera and has had concert performances with the Santa Fe Symphony, New Mexico Philharmonic, Chatter, Bad Reichenhaller Philharmonie, Chicago Arts Orchestra and many others.

Because she is a lyric soprano, Onstad often sang (and still sometimes sings) the lighter roles in operas. Think more Mozart and Puccini, less Wagner. She has played Musetta in one of her favorite operas, Puccini’s La Boheme, a character who, ironically enough given Onstad’s future career, touts her own virtues in Act II.

“There are different weights of voices. It has to do with the thickness of the vocal cords and certain body types are better for certain things,” she explains. “I’m petite, and smaller frames generally house smaller instruments and sing lighter roles.” (As a point of contrast, Onstad is married to Michael Hix whose very tall frame houses a very big baritone. He is currently interim chair of the UNM Department of Music.)

Ingela Onstad seated in comfy chair with her dog beside her
Ingela Onstad working on her laptop

Onstad returned home to New Mexico in 2012, earned her first master’s, in voice performance, in 2014 and her second, in counseling, in 2017. She then worked at a local counseling agency and as a voice coach while continuing to perform locally. As she grew in her multiple professional roles, she began to see “a real need for specialized psychological help for performing artists,” she says. “Athletes have it in the form of sports psychologists. I think of myself as a type of athlete.

Onstad’s own performance issues had less to do with classic stage fright than with holding herself back for fear of not being good enough or ready enough, which itself often stems from perfectionism. “A lot of times it’s not necessarily the classic stage fright,” she says. “Oftentimes I see a colleague have a certain type of confidence in rehearsal. They shrink when it comes to the performance.”

She saw it all around her. When people realized she was in the mental health field, she started getting late-night calls and texts from panicked colleagues and friends: I am so anxious. I have a performance tomorrow. Can you give me tips?

This reaching out required its own well of courage. “It’s really taboo to talk about anxiety in the community. We don’t speak about it openly because the competition is so high and there’s stigma around any type of mental health issue. Even admitting to a fellow colleague that having a lot of anxiety creates more anxiety,” she says. “You’re already at maximum vulnerability.” 

That makes Courageous Artistry particularly valuable as a private space where the people behind the public personas can go ahead and be afraid, then work through it.

Onstad says she chose coaching rather than therapy because coaching allowed her to have clients all over the world. If she had offered therapy, she would have been limited to New Mexico clients unless she acquired multiple licenses.

Certainly, Onstad’s therapy background informs her practice but coaching, including her style of coaching, is very present and future-oriented, whereas therapy is heavily based in a past perspective.

Coaching, she notes, is not “Why do I feel the way I feel?” but more “How can I progress towards my goals?” 

One of Kelder’s favorite exercises, one that has led to “lasting and significant change,” involved visualizing her life as a working actor: What would her day look like? What tasks would she accomplish? What job would she have?

Onstad launched Courageous Artistry just as the shadow of COVID-19 darkened the world. “I thought this is either terrible or wonderful timing,” she laughs. Onstad made sure it was wonderful, offering free webinars to help artists cope with the stress of diminished work opportunities and canceled performances.  She now sees clients in person and on Zoom.

Meanwhile Onstad was experiencing her own learning curve as an entrepreneur and, taking her own advice, hired a business coach to lead her through this new world. 

In addition to the free webinars, she drums up business through presentations at colleges and organizations, including Tulane University, UNM and Youth Opera of El Paso. She also gets referrals from voice coaches (that’s how Kelder found her), physical therapists and speech language pathologists, including, recently, a team at Duke University.

Onstad’s extensive career as a performer prepared her well for this new role. “I’m used to being in the public eye and presenting myself,” she says. “I’m used to poor odds, knowing the chance you take auditioning. You have to be brave. You have to be courageous and resilient. You have to learn.” 

Fall 2022 Mirage Magazine Features

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Fall in New Mexico is a Treat for the Senses

Fall in New Mexico is a Treat for the Senses

colorful hot air balloons at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Fall in New Mexico is a Treat for the Senses

Photo of President Garnett S. Stokes

Dear Lobos,

Fall in New Mexico is a treat for the senses. With the arrival of autumn comes the smell of roasting chile, the sight of hot air balloons on the horizon and the vibrant, bustling sounds of student life on our UNM campuses. It’s easy to be excited about the season — and about the future.

For more than a year — and even during a globe-altering pandemic — The University of New Mexico has been working tirelessly with an engaged university community to craft a road map for the future of our university. That long-term plan, UNM 2040: Opportunity Defined, has given us a chance to think differently about how UNM can be more relevant, more visible, and more competitive as we make our way toward the  middle of the 21st century.

We officially unveiled our plan at a celebration in the SUB this past May, with the help of some key Lobo leaders and the lively support of an engaged audience. As part of our plan, we’ve laid out five long-term goals to guide us along our path to excellence. I hope you’ll take some time to read the full strategic framework, but our five goals, briefly, are:

  1. Advance New Mexico – We look carefully not only at what all New Mexicans require, but also at the unique needs of our communities, and use that knowledge to improve the quality of life and work toward growth and prosperity.

  2. Student Experience and Educational Innovation – We create supportive, intellectually challenging, exciting, diverse, joyful learning environments, both inside and outside of the classroom, that will help ensure the success of all learners.
  3. Inclusive Excellence – We lean into our core values of equity and inclusion to expand opportunity, cultivate the potential of our students, faculty and staff, create new knowledge, and serve all New Mexicans.
  4. Sustainability – We ensure we have the necessary resources — human, financial and physical — needed to achieve all our aspirations, while protecting the natural environment.
  5. One University – We connect, integrate and streamline our distinctive academic, research, patient care and service components across all of our campuses.

As our flag-bearers and ambassadors in communities around the world, our Lobo alumni are some of our most crucial allies in advancing our mission and helping us achieve these lofty goals. Your engagement and enthusiasm will always be essential to our success as a university  — and with you at our side as we begin the work to turn our aspirations into reality, I have never been more optimistic about our future as Lobos.

Have a wonderful Fall, and let’s go, Lobos!

Garnett S. Stokes
President, The University of New Mexico

Fall 2022 Mirage Magazine Features

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Pretty Good At Math

Pretty Good At Math

Jack Dongarra smiling with whiteboard in background

Photos: Courtesy of Jack Dongarra

Alumnus caps high-performance computing career with prestigious prize

Pretty Good At Math

By Ellen Marks

When Jack Dongarra received a Zoom invite from MIT professor emeritus Rodney Brooks, a founder of the robot vacuum cleaner, he thought it probably would be about membership in a professional association.

Or, he thought, it might be related to Brooks’ role as adviser to one of Dongarra’s colleagues.

But when Dongarra joined the meeting in early March, he said he found about nine people in Zoom’s “Hollywood Square” configuration, including some of the brightest minds in the computer sciences world.

The faces Dongarra saw turned out to be members of the Turing Award committee, and they told him he had just been named 2021 recipient of the $1 million prize. Considered the Nobel of computer science, the award is the highest distinction in the field to which Dongarra has dedicated his life’s work.

“I was stunned,” Dongarra says. “This is the capstone to my career.”

The 72-year-old professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee is now officially recognized for his groundbreaking work in the world of high-performance supercomputing.

Dongarra earned his PhD in applied mathematics at the University of New Mexico in 1980 and spent part of his time in the state at Los Alamos National Laboratory, taking classes at the UNM branch campus there before moving to the main campus in Albuquerque.

“He has been forever a well-known name in the field of high-performance computing, building software for very large, one-of-a-kind computers,” says Darko Stefanovic, chair of UNM’s computer science department. “It’s not a very large field, but it’s a very important one. And it’s very important to New Mexico and to UNM.”

The Association for Computing Machinery, which grants the Turing award, called Dongarra “a leading ambassador of high-performance computing” and cited his cutting-edge work in developing software that can keep pace with rapidly developing “hardware” — computers that range from the laptop to the world’s fastest supercomputers.

black and white photo of a youthful jack dongarra seated at a computer

Here’s Dongarra on his job description: “The way to think of it is that my hardware friends build something, and they throw it over the fence and they put it at our feet and say, ‘Try to use it.’”

“So now we’ve got this new machine, and we struggle to effectively use it. It takes us about 10 years to really develop the methods and approaches that will let us use that machine correctly, and then it’s time for a new machine to be thrown over the fence and we start over. So that’s sort of the scenario we’re in.”

Dongarra’s advances rely on linear algebra operations and “parallel processing.” Linear algebra is ubiquitous in computational science solutions, and parallel processing uses a number of computer processors jointly working on a problem to solve it in the most rapid and accurate way.

Dongarra also was cited for open source software libraries that invited anyone to use his inventions for the advancement of the field.

“These contributions laid a framework from which scientists and engineers made important discoveries and game-changing innovations in areas including big data analytics, health care, renewable energy, weather prediction, genomics, and economics, to name a few,” the association said in awarding him the prize.

Dongarra is director of the University of Tennessee’s Innovative Computing Laboratory, a Turing Fellow at Manchester University, adjunct professor at Rice University and a Distinguished Research Staff member at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

He participated in some of the work leading to development of the Frontier supercomputer at Oak Ridge, declared in May to be the world’s fastest. Even Dongarra is astounded by Frontier’s “exascale” speed.

“Exascale… is a billion billion operations per second,” he says. “Let me just put that number in perspective. You take all the people in the world and have them do one computation per second. To equal what that supercomputer would do in one second, all the people in the world would have to be working four years to do that. So it’s a stunning amount of work, and the computer does it in a second. That’s sort of where we are today.”

Jack Dongarra with colleague working on computer
Jack Dongarra working on computer

Dongarra grew up in Chicago to parents who never finished high school. His grandparents were from Sicily, and Dongarra kept up the family’s heritage by making pizza for a living – from high school into graduate school.

“It taught a lot of real-life things,” he says, adding, “I still make pizza.”

A young Dongarra went through school with dyslexia, although it was undiagnosed at the time. But it explained why he was always stuck with the same classroom seating arrangement.

“I remember being put in the back of the class because they ordered the class from smart to not-smart people,” he says. “I was never good at reading, and I’m still not very good at reading or writing, to be honest.”

“But I’m pretty good at math and physics,” he adds, in what has to be a nominee for understatement of the year.

Dongarra got his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Chicago State University in 1972, and his master’s in computer science from the Illinois Institute of Technology the following year.

He was working at Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago when he met Cleve Moler, a then-UNM math and computer science professor who spent summers at Argonne. Moler taught at UNM for 13 years, and served as chair of UNM’s Computer Science Department
in the 1980s.

Moler is a renowned mathematician and computer programmer who was a geek from the start. As a kid growing up in Salt Lake City, he entertained himself by seeking prime factors in license plate numbers and street addresses.

Moler, who founded the MathWorks mathematical computing software company, recalls what motivated his protege to seek a doctorate while the two were working at Argonne.

“He (Dongarra) said one day, ‘Cleve, whenever a really important decision is made here, all the PhDs go into (an) office and make the decision, and I’m not part of that group,’” Moler recalls. “‘If I’m going to be a full-fledged member of this group, I’m going to need a PhD.’”

Dongarra and Moler were close during the casual summer atmosphere at Argonne, and even though their offices were at opposite ends of a corridor, “I remember hearing Jack and Cleve holler to each other from down the hall,” recalls Doris Pool, a then-administrative assistant.

Moler convinced Dongarra to come back to New Mexico with him, even though UNM did not offer a PhD in computer science at the time. Instead, Dongarra pursued a mathematics PhD, although it was what he called “sort of an applied mathematics PhD.”

When Moler went on sabbatical at Stanford University, Dongarra followed and continued to work with Moler while the two kicked around possible thesis topics.

Initially, it didn’t go that well.

“There was a hamburger and beer joint there (at Stanford) called Oasis,” Moler says. “We sat in the outdoor beer garden, and he came up with a thesis, and it turned out to be a bad idea. We refer to it this day as the ‘Oasis algorithm.’”

But Dongarra finally found his PhD topic, centering on “eigenvalues,” which can be used to measure the frequency of vibrations on such structures as bridges and buildings.

And although he left New Mexico soon after his studies were completed, he remembers the Frontier restaurant near UNM and his walk across the bridge in Los Alamos to get to the lab.

“Growing up in Chicago, I really hadn’t experienced the desert or mountains,” he says. “It was just a tremendous experience.”

black and white photo of Dongarra with colleagues

Leader in the Field

Patrick Bridges, a computer science professor and director of UNM’s Center for Advanced Research Computing, says Dongarra “has been a real leader in the general field of computer science for 40-plus years.”

Bridges’ description of Dongarra echoes those of others who know him: “He’s a really nice, low-key, down-to-earth kind of guy. If you have questions or need advice, Jack’s great.”

Bridges cites Dongarra’s introduction of benchmarks, such as the Linpack benchmark, to evaluate a computer system’s performance by, for example, approximating how fast it can perform when solving actual problems.

“The thing to understand is that science today is really driven by simulation, and simulation is carried out on computers,” Dongarra says. “So if we’re trying to understand something, we do a mathematical model of it. We take a mathematical model and represent it somehow as a program which runs on a computer.”

“You can think about that being applied to a car,” Dongarra says. “We want to test it and see if it’s crash-worthy. In the old days, you would build a car and smash it into a wall and then see what happens. You know, that’s an expensive thing, you can’t do that many times.

“But we can design a car on a computer, and we can then crash that model into the wall thousands of times, hundreds of thousands of times, and then we can optimize the design to make it more crash-worthy.”

Dongarra says because so much of his work was funded by the government, he has always believed that it should be free and available to anyone. He calls his developments his “calling card” and compares them to his many written academic papers.

“I write papers, and I want people to read them,” he says. “I make those papers freely available to anybody who wants to read them and download them and cite them and learn from them. The software is out there. (People) should use it.”

However, someone who wants to replicate the steps Dongarra took to develop a career that has reached the highest levels would have a difficult time.

“I’ve been in an unusual situation. I happened to be at the right place at the right time for many things,” he says. “So if somebody said, ‘I want to do what you did, how did you do it?,’ I can’t tell you. It’s been very serendipitous.”

Regarding the $1 million, Dongarra said, “I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do with it, but I am taking suggestions.”

Jack Dongarra headshot from when he was younger
Jack Dongarra current day headshot

Fall 2022 Mirage Magazine Features

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Food in the Pantry

Food in the Pantry

husked maize with two men sifting through it by hand

Food in the Pantry

UNM archaeologist and Prof. Keith Prufer co-led a team excavating a site in Belize that uncovered evidence of how maize, a critical staple food in Central America, went hand in hand with human migration.

The paper’s title says it all. “South -to-north migration preceded the advent of intensive farming in the Maya region” was published in the journal Nature Communications in March.

Working in the remote Maya Mountains of Belize, Prufer’s team excavated 25 burial sites and, using stable isotope-labeled DNA, discovered evidence that farmers moved from the south 6,500 years ago, bringing with them seeds that changed the makeup of the region.

“We see the migration of these people as fundamentally important for development of farming and, eventually, large Maya-speaking communities,” said Prufer, who directs UNM’s Environmental Archaeology Lab. Maize — or corn — could be grown and stored, giving communities a reliable source of protein and sugar and allowing them to stay in one place.

Fall 2022 Mirage Magazine Features

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