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AI director from ORNL gives plenary talk at 2024 National Science Bowl

Dr. Prasanna Balaprakash speaks at the Plenary session during the 2024 National Science Bowl®
ORNL's Director of Artificial Intelligence Programs Prasanna Balaprakash, was featured as the plenary speaker at the National Science Bowl in Washington D.C. Credit: Genevieve Martin/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Prasanna Balaprakash, a national leader in artificial intelligence, or AI, spoke to some of the highest achieving students in the country at the National Science Bowl in Washington D.C.

Balaprakash, who serves as director of Artificial Intelligence Programs at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was featured as the plenary speaker for the annual competition for middle and high school students where he detailed how the computer scientists and researchers at ORNL are working to make AI more secure, trustworthy and energy efficient.

“It was an honor to speak with such incredible students who will shape the future of science,” Balaprakash said. “Their desire to learn, excel and compete at such a high level is truly remarkable.

Balaprakash walked students through some of the major challenges facing the future growth of AI and many of the inherent paradoxes of its development. He then discussed how ORNL and other national laboratories are working to address these challenges through resources such as Frontier, the world’s fastest supercomputer and first to break the exascale barrier.

In his plenary talk, Balaprakash included areas where AI will take an increasingly greater role in future research, including materials science, fusion and fission energy, isotopes, national security, biology and environment, computing and clean energy. He also encouraged students to learn more and gain a greater understanding of AI as it becomes more engrained in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, research.

ORNL has a long history working with AI dating back more than four decades, beginning in October 1979 with the Oak Ridge Applied Artificial Intelligence Project. Today, Balaprakash directs the ORNL’s latest iteration of leading AI research, the Artificial Intelligence Initiative.

“It’s so important to teach and equip students with the knowledge surrounding AI and other new technologies while they’re still young and learning,” Balaprakash said. “Oak Ridge National Laboratory is committed to empowering young people with opportunities to grow in these exciting new research fields that will shape scientific discovery.”

The National Science Bowl is the culmination of several competitions across the country testing middle and high school teams on their math and science knowledge. Created by the DOE in 1991 to encourage students to excel in and pursue careers in math and science, over 344,000 students have participated in the competition over its 34-year history.

Beginning in January each year, around 10,000 students compete in teams of four (with one alternate) in 65 high school and 50 middle school regional Science Bowl tournaments. These competitions have a fast-paced Q and A format covering subjects like biology, Earth science, math, chemistry and physics.

The DOE’s Office of Science manages the competition and sponsors the final event.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit   —  Mark Alewine