Computer PhD Student Selected for ACM-IEEE CS George Michael Memorial HPC Fellowship

Doctoral student Tirthak Patel, computer engineering, is studying quantum computing, an emerging field of computer engineering. His research focuses on devising a way for the output of a computation run on quantum computing hardware, which is in its nascent stage, to be as expected. It won him the 2021 ACM-IEEE CS George Michael Memorial HPC Fellowship.

Tirthak Patel was always interested in math and science, but it wasn’t until his undergraduate program at the University of Toronto that he realized he liked academia most.

Fueled by his desire to “hone my research skills,” along with his passion for coding and computers, Patel decided to pursue a PhD in Computer Engineering. “We can learn a lot of different things in the world by learning how to code,” he says.

Patel was initially attracted to Northeastern because when he toured the campus, he “found it to be a stimulating environment.” But it was the chance to work with his advisor, Assistant Professor Devesh Tiwari, on projects about high-performance computing and large-scale computer coding, that sealed the deal for Patel.

Upon starting the program in 2017, Patel took a series of engineering courses, including his favorite, Simulation and Performance Evaluation, which teaches students how to model different processes of computing. While working on his coursework and qualifying exam, Patel also focused on his research.

For his dissertation, Patel is studying quantum computing, an emerging field of computer engineering. A quantum computer is capable of solving more difficult computations than a classical computer (a normal computer, like a Mac or PC) can. These computations are found in everyday situations such as traffic simulations, weather prediction models, stock market predictions, and chemistry molecule simulations.

But the current hardware of a quantum computer is in its nascent stage. When someone runs a program on it to solve a computation, the output that comes out is different than what is expected. Patel’s research focuses on devising a way for the output to not be different because of the hardware error. “We still want to be able to do useful computations on these computers even though the technology is limited,” Patel says.

Not only has Patel’s research been published in several publications, it recently won him the 2021 ACM-IEEE CS George Michael Memorial HPC Fellowship. The fellowship honors outstanding PhD students who pursue research in high-performance computing, networking, storage, and data analysis.

Having been nominated by Professor Tiwari, Patel’s award comes with a $5,000 cash prize, along with travel and registration to the Supercomputing conference in November to receive the honor. “It’s an international award,” Patel says. “Students from around the world are nominated for it, so it was really cool to be recognized.”

On the heels of his award, Patel looks ahead to his expected graduation in 2022. Following through with his plans to work in academia, Patel is applying to professor positions in the U.S. and Canada. Besides his research, Patel mentored undergraduate, graduate, and new PhD students during his program. He also conducted tutorials at past conferences. Patel hopes these experiences will translate to a classroom setting. “I want to create a good educational experience for other students.”

What’s Patel’s advice for students aspiring to pursue a similar path? “My advice would be to get different experiences,” he says. “In the summer, I would suggest working in startups, different labs, and other industries.”

Related Departments:Electrical & Computer Engineering