Skip to main content

Balaprakash named director of ORNL’s Artificial Intelligence Initiative

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has named Prasanna Balaprakash to direct its artificial intelligence efforts.

The laboratory’s AI Initiative coordinates efforts across its varied research directorates to harness the power of AI and data science in tackling some of the most complex scientific problems of interest to DOE and America’s economic and national security.

In his more than 15-year career, Balaprakash has collaborated with teams across the national labs, industry and academia to tackle a wide range of scientific and engineering challenges including materials research, climate change, fusion science, transportation and supercomputing.

To date he has authored more than 150 peer-reviewed research articles and given more than 100 research presentations, including 15 invited talks. Prior to joining ORNL, he served as a computer scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. While at Argonne, he won DOE’s Early Career Award and ran a research group comprised of more than 10 staff at varying career levels focused on foundational, applied and scalable scientific artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“As the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s AI Initiative, I envision a future where artificial general intelligence, machine learning and high-performance computing play a critical role in advancing the frontiers of science, engineering and national security,” Balaprakash said. “The AI Initiative’s focus will be on developing foundational, scalable and applied technologies and leveraging them to enable breakthroughs across a wide scientific spectrum including materials science, biology and health science, and nuclear engineering, to name a few.”

ORNL currently boasts more than 300 staff tackling scientific challenges with the help of AI, an effort that has garnered two R&D 100 Awards and more than 10 patents to date. The addition of Balaprakash is one of several moves by the laboratory to build on that foundation and shape the future of scientific research.

For instance, the laboratory is home to Frontier, the world’s most powerful computer also billed as the world’s “smartest,” or AI-ready, high-performance computing (HPC) system. Frontier is based on HPE Cray’s new EX architecture and HPE Slingshot interconnect with optimized 3rd Gen AMD EPYC CPUs for HPC and AI, and AMD Instinct 250X accelerators.

ORNL’s partnership with GPU manufacturer NVIDIA has resulted in a series of deep learning workshops aimed at assisting the laboratory’s researchers in rapidly accelerating breakthroughs across the scientific spectrum.

And the laboratory has partnered with the University of Tennessee’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education on a joint Data Science and Engineering doctoral program to bring an expanded data expertise to some of DOE’s most pressing problems. The Bredesen Center is under the umbrella of the UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute, or UT-ORII.

Balaprakash replaces David Womble, who is retiring after being named the AI Initiative’s first director in 2017.

“David has done an excellent job applying ORNL’s expertise and facilities to the advancement of artificial intelligence for science,” said Doug Kothe, ORNL’s associate laboratory director for Computing and Computational Science. “I am confident that Prasanna’s vision, when coupled with the laboratory’s capabilities, will ensure ORNL’s leadership in this critical field.”

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