Hoang earns first NSF CAREER Award for Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Auburn University mathematics professor Thi-Thao-Phuong Hoang hopes to use applied and computational mathematics to help scientists better understand and potentially solve real-world problems like water contamination and climate change, and the department’s first-ever National Science Foundation, or NSF, CAREER Award could help her do exactly that.
“My job is to develop, analyze and implement numerical methods to solve the mathematical models of those real-world physical processes and phenomena,” said Hoang, just the second professor in the state of Alabama to receive an NSF CAREER award in mathematical sciences since it was created in 1995. “I am passionate about interdisciplinary research, and I want to do both the theoretical and practical things, and I find it more motivational when I see the application of my work and how it is used and applied to better understand our world.”
A rising star in Auburn’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, or COSAM, Hoang was notified in February about the historic award that will provide the Vietnam native and her team nearly $440,000 in funding for the next five years. The prestigious honor—administered by the NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program—was both humbling and inspiring for Hoang, an assistant professor.
“I’m very excited about it, and it’s a great thing to know all of your hard work has paid off,” said Hoang, winner of the department’s Jack B. Brown Endowed Faculty Award for 2021-23. “You feel very motivated to continue with what you’re working on now that you have the resources and recognition. I am also grateful to my advisors, mentors and collaborators for their constant support and valuable advice.”
Hoang hopes to use the award to recruit and train undergraduate and graduate students, purchase state-of-the-art computer equipment, attend conferences and attract elite-level mathematicians to Auburn for discussions and speaking engagements. By increasing her team’s size and capabilities, Hoang will look to use her expertise in applied and computational mathematics, as well as numerical analysis, on a grander scale to help scientists and colleagues potentially solve real-world environmental problems.
In addition, she will bolster COSAM’s effort to attract and support high school students via the Auburn University Summer Science Institute, or AU-SSI, an educational enrichment program administered by COSAM’s Office of Outreach. It is designed for highly motivated rising 11th- and 12th-grade students from Alabama and Georgia with a high aptitude and interest in pursuing a degree in science, math or a related field.
“As part of the educational component of my CAREER project, I will develop curricular modules in computational mathematics at the AU-SSI to provide young students early exposure to applied mathematics and inspire them, especially girls, to pursue a career in mathematics,” said Hoang, recipient of COSAM’s 2020 Dr. Robert K. Butz Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Hoang earned her bachelor’s in mathematics from Ho Chi Minh City University in her native Vietnam, completed her master’s in applied math at University d’Orleans on Orleans, France, then lived in Paris for nearly four years while she completed her doctorate in applied mathematics from Universite Pierre et Marie Curie. After teaching at her alma mater in Vietnam from 2014-17, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of South Carolina—where she was part of a team working on a research project about climate and earth system modeling funded by the Department of Energy—before joining the Auburn faculty as a tenured-track professor in 2018.
Fluid dynamics—which provides methods for studying the evolution of ocean currents, weather patterns, plate tectonics and even blood circulation—and how it applies to real-world situations, is an area of interest for Hoang and her team. By designing algorithms to study how the ocean interacts with coasts and the rest of an area’s ecosystem, Hoang hopes to use math to contribute to scientists’ understanding of how the world is changing and the depth and breadth of everyday environmental dilemmas.
“Fluids are everywhere in our world, and I’m [particularly] interested in environmental science,” Hoang said. “So, I’ve been doing nuclear waste repository simulations, where you simulate the transport of radiation nuclides and where they’re buried in the ground. I do ocean modeling, so I simulate the movement of water in the ocean and things like that, water cycles and the interactions between surface and sub-surface flows.”
Hoang also has long-term goals for her research, including streamlining efficiency and accuracy of numerical methods and their parallel implementation.
“My research is Multiphysics and multiscale systems,” she said. “These systems are everywhere and are difficult to simulate correctly. The challenges come from the fact that you have different physics which occur on different spatial and time scales; moreover, they’re coupled together, so there’s some interaction between them which needs to be considered in the simulation.
“Our goal is to develop stable, accurate and efficient numerical methods based on domain decomposition and local time-stepping for solving large-scale Multiphysics multiscale problems.”
Department Chair Ash Abebe has been impressed with Hoang’s work ethic and is excited about what she has brought to Auburn, as well as what her team can achieve in the future.
“Dr. Hoang’s research program, focused on developing novel numerical methods and numerical analysis for partial differential equations, is a very important component of the department's research portfolio,” Abebe said. “Her research has broad applications from transport through porous media, to climate modeling, to solid mechanics and is supported by two concurrent NSF grants she has obtained since coming to Auburn in 2018 and for which she is the sole primary investigator. This award is an indicator of the growing profile of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics as a research leader in the state and the nation.”
Hoang said she and her husband, Tuan, and 6-year-old son, Minh, have thoroughly enjoyed living in Auburn and becoming part of the Auburn Family. She feels the community’s warm and welcoming nature will help provide a great environment for her research work to thrive.
“I think Auburn is such a great place to live, honestly,” she said. “I love being here, and the people around me are all friendly. I can feel the spirit, and so many people with the same interest is really awesome. The COSAM family is great, and I really feel a supportive environment from the people here.
“I feel very lucky.”
Auburn Assistant Professor Thi-Thao-Phuong Hoang has won the first National Science Foundation CAREER Award in the history of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. She hopes to use applied and computational math to help solve real-world problems like climate change.