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Xu Zhang

Math professor receives competitive research grant

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Media Contact: Jacob Longan | Coordinator of Communications and Marketing, College of Arts and Sciences | 405-744-7497 |

Oklahoma State University assistant professor Xu Zhang received one of the competitive Oak Ridge Associated Universities research grants worth $10,000 this summer.
Zhang, a Department of Mathematics professor who specializes in numerical analysis, received the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award for his research proposal on using unfitted mesh to solve three-dimensional interface problems. The award provides recipients $5,000 and OSU will match the award with another $5,000, making Zhang’s total prize worth $10,000.
“It is definitely a great honor for me,” Zhang said. “It is also an encouragement for me to continue in this research area as I’m a junior researcher in this community.”
The Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award is presented to 35 researchers within the first two years of their tenure track positions at ORAU affiliated universities. Each university can nominate only two junior faculty members, and ORAU received more than 150 applications for the award.
Chris Francisco, who is on hiatus from his position as head of the Department of Mathematics while he serves as OSU’s interim vice provost for undergraduate education, said he is happy Zhang’s research was chosen for the grant. He added that Zhang’s research speaks to the prestige of the department.
“I'm thrilled that Dr. Zhang earned this prestigious and very competitive award,” Francisco said. “It speaks highly of his research program and is evidence of the strength of our applied math group, which has an international reputation for doing outstanding work that moves mathematics forward in important ways. Dr. Zhang has been a terrific addition to our department, and we are fortunate to have him.”
Zhang, who is entering his third year at OSU, said the multidisciplinary award is generally given to only three or four mathematics researchers each year, and he is honored ORAU chose to support his research with this grant.
Zhang’s research focuses on using numerical methods to solve interface problems, which arise when two materials meet, such as water and oil. These problems are challenging to solve, and Zhang said his research aims to develop an efficient and accurate method to solve them.
“This proposal actually pushes the boundary of this kind of research,” Zhang said. “It deals with real world, three-dimensional interface problems, and we are tackling them in a kind of nontraditional way, which uses the ‘unfitted mesh.’
“The unfitted mesh means non-body-fitting mesh, that is the computational mesh does not need to be aligned with the material interface. This is in contrast to the conventional numerical methods using ‘fitted mesh’ or ‘body-fitting mesh,’ which requires the mesh to be tailored to fit the interfaces. A satisfactory body-fitting mesh can be difficult to generate for complicated interface shapes. Our new method is advantageous for dealing with these complicated interface shapes in three-dimensional simulations and for problems involving a moving interface.”
Interface problems have several real-world applications, especially within engineering, and Zhang said he collaborates often with aerospace engineers.
Francisco said he was impressed with Zhang’s research proposal and how well he was able to communicate his ideas even for people who aren’t experts in the field.
“Dr. Zhang wrote a really outstanding proposal,” Francisco said. “He demonstrated how computationally efficient his methods are for addressing mathematical problems with important applications, and he outlined a clear path forward to improving and generalizing this approach, especially for problems that arise frequently in engineering.”
The competitive grant is intended to be seed money for researchers, and Zhang said he plans to use his award to attend regional and national conferences as well as travel to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to work on his research. He said the award boosts his confidence in his research, and it also encourages him to compete for other external grants in this research area.
He said he is grateful for the support he has received from the university and he looks forward to continuing his research at OSU in the coming years.
“I’m very grateful for the support from our department, our department head, and the research team in the College of Arts and Sciences,” Zhang said. “They gave me a lot of help, so I’m very grateful to them.”

Story by Ellie Melero, College of Arts and Sciences Graduate Assistant

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