University of Texas at Austin


Stella Offner Wins Distinguished Researcher Award

By Rebecca Riley

Published May 14, 2024

Dr. Stella Offner being presented with the Peter O'Donnell Distinguished Researcher Award from Oden Institute Director Karen Willcox

Stella Offner has been selected as the 2024 recipient of the Peter O’Donnell Distinguished Researcher Award by the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences

This award recognizes Oden Institute core faculty who have demonstrated a sustained record of distinguished research in computational engineering and sciences. Recipients are chosen for their outstanding research record, the significant contributions they have made to the Oden Institute and its CSEM graduate program, and the distinction their work and reputation brings to the Oden Institute and the University of Texas at Austin.

The Distinguished Researcher Award provides discretionary funds of $25,000 a year, for up to four years in support of its awardee’s research within the Institute.

As an associate professor of astronomy and co-director of the Center for Scientific Machine Learning, Offner’s research focuses on understanding how stars like the Sun form by combining numerical simulations, observations and observational modeling. 

“Flexible funding like this is excellent to explore new research directions -- to start new projects and get preliminary results, which can open up additional grant funding opportunities,” she explained. “I will likely use the funds to support student projects.”

Offner's recent work reflects two key areas of focus. Firstly, she has been actively integrating machine learning techniques into her studies while collaborating with fellow faculty members across campus. This interdisciplinary approach, particularly within the realms of astronomy, machine learning, and AI, represents an emerging field where researchers are pioneering innovative methodologies. Offner's efforts in this area have been instrumental in simplifying processes that were previously reliant on manual intervention, utilizing simulations as a training set to identify features and derive insights from observational data.

Additionally, Offner's research extends to large-scale simulations aimed at modeling the intricate processes underlying star formation. Within these simulations, encompassing thousands of forming stars, she incorporates various physical phenomena such as gravity, turbulence, radiation, and magnetic fields. This endeavor poses a formidable challenge due to the complexity of interactions among these factors and the vast dynamic range involved. Nevertheless, she remains dedicated to advancing computational modeling techniques, aiming to create simulations that accurately represent the diverse aspects of stellar formation.

A simulation of a gas cloud containing 20,000 solar masses of gas forming a cluster of stars

Before joining the faculty at UT Austin, Stella Offner was a NASA Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University, an NSF Astronomy & Astrophysics Prize Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She received an NSF CAREER Award in 2017 and a Cottrell Scholar Award in 2018. She received her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California - Berkeley.