Meet the Researcher - Max Hawkins

Breakout Room: 12

MaxHawkins_HeadshotResearcher Name: Max Hawkins
Title of Research: High-Performance Radio Telescope Array Data Processing Framework
Division Representing: Engineering
Institution: The University of Alabama
Institution Location: Alabama
Home State: South Dakota
Research Institution/State: University of California - Berkeley; California

District Number: 13
Advisor/Mentor: Daniel Czech, David MacMahon, Steve Croft
Funding Source: Breakthrough Initiatives; National Science Foundation
Scholarships: NOAA Hollings Scholarship

Research Experience:  
BREAKTHROUGH LISTEN - Engineering Intern, June 2020 - August 2020 Helped develop the data processing pipeline backend at the MeerKAT radio telescope array handling > 200 GB/sIntegrated C/CUDA code into high-level Julia scripts to manage semaphore arrays for large data buffersExperimented with spectral kurtosis and cyclostationary statistics as general energy detection algorithmsContinued this research by experimenting with NVIDIA tensor core use in digital signal processing algorithms GREEN BANK OBSERVATORY - Electrical Engineering Intern, May 2019 - August 2019Demonstrated data loss reductions by up to 50% by excising RFI at high time resolutions through machine learningUtilized Amazon Web Services S3 to manage a >20 terabyte dataset and deployed the trained ML model using SagemakerCreated a multi-class semantic segmentation model to classify data as desired signal, unwanted signal, or fast radio burstsCreated a data annotation and formatting pipeline from scratch for TensorFlow/KerasPaper submission in progress for the 2021 International Union of Radio Science General Assembly (URSI GASS) entitled High-Performance Radio Telescope Array Data Processing Framework

Presentation Experience: 
I presented my research conducted at the Green Bank Observatory via a poster at the 235th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society (Jan 4-8, 2020). This is the premier astronomy conference in the U.S. As I'm part of a dedicated research program at my university (the Randall Research Scholars Program), every semester I participate in 8-12 hours of research each week. Each semester culminates in a presentation summarizing and explaining my research to fellow students, faculty, and interested members of the general public. The format for fall semesters is a 15 minute oral presentation with slides while the spring consists of a poster conference. At the end of both of my internships, I've presented my work to my advisors, colleagues, and other members of my sponsoring organization in the form of 10-20 minute oral presentations. I also participated in speech and debate throughout high school.

Significance of Research:       
As radio telescope facilities grow larger with more antennas that observe wider frequency ranges, data rates are rapidly increasing. This necessitates an equivalent increase in data transfers, processing speeds, and emphasis on real-time analysis. My research aims to achieve this by creating a high-level radio telescope array data pipeline and algorithm interface intended for astronomers. I am working to reduce the gap between high-level science algorithm development (currently mainly in Python) and high-performance, production code by developing in the Julia programming language. Additionally, modern graphics processing units (GPUs) contain new hardware accelerators which have the potential to improve digital signal processing. Combining the aspects above, the goal of my research is to improve the performance and programmability of radio telescope array data processing pipelines. This will allow for increased real-time data analysis by astronomers - accelerating discoveries such as the search for technological signatures from extraterrestrial civilizations. 

Uniqueness of Research: 
This research explores improvements in high-performance data processing pipelines to enable easier development and implementation of array-based radio astronomy observations. Specifically, this research is geared towards improving the search for technological signatures from civilizations beyond Earth.