Nathan Stone: Physicist Turned Malaria Warrior

Nathan in his office.

I’ve been working with Nathan Stone for almost ten years, and over the past few months there has been a question nagging at me.  How in the world does a guy who has a Ph.D. in Experimental Nuclear Physics wind up being involved in PSC’s newest collaborative project, VECNet, which is researching new strategies to better control/eliminate malaria in developing countries?  In my mind, experimental nuclear physics != controlling malaria! So I sat down with Nathan and got a little more insight as to what landed him his current role of Modeling and Project Manager for the VECNet Cyber-Infrastructure (CI) team.

Nathan describes his undergrad major as a happy accident.  When he applied to Purdue University as an undergrad, he wanted to be an engineer. Unfortunately, when he applied it was too late to get into the engineering school since all of the slots had already been filled.  So he applied to the College of Science at Purdue and hoped to transfer to engineering his sophomore year.

As it turns out he stuck it out in physics.  He even participated in a REU program at Michigan State between his sophomore and junior years.  While working in the accelerator lab on campus he realized that research was much more than writing a book report.  He enjoyed his research experience at Michigan State and in the accelerator lab so much that he went back to get his Ph.D. there.

Nathan giving a virtual machine room tour at PSC's 25th anniversary celebration to a group of K-12 teachers.

After completing his post-doc at Berkeley, Nathan started working at Brookhaven National Lab on Long Island as a full time staff scientist.  He was a member of a collaborative team to bring up a unique new particle detector, STAR.  Nathan was involved in data calibration and acquisition and experiment controls for the new device.  Before STAR could receive funding to build the device, they needed to prove to the funding agency, the Department of Energy(DOE), that it would work.  This is where PSC enters the story… the STAR team ran simulations on PSC’s supercomputers to make their case to the DOE.

The STAR project required collaboration meetings about every 6 months, and during one of the meetings, Nathan gave a facility tour to PSCers Mike Levine & Sergiu Sanielevici.  Sergiu was looking for staffers to participate in the National Institutes of Health’s Collaboratories project.  Participants would help find new hardware, software, techniques, and tools that could help geographically distributed collaborators to work more effectively together.  Nathan’s experience with various partners at Brookhaven made him a perfect fit, and Mike & Sergiu encouraged Nathan to apply at PSC.

Nathan’s tenure at PSC has involved a number of projects, all of which have had two commonalities, ensuring that PSC users and collaborators have remote, secure and fast data access, and working on and finding tools to make collaborative projects more efficient and effective.

The Star Trek door chime mounted outside of Nathan's office that makes a swoosh noise everytime you visit.

So when PSCer Shawn Brown needed developers with a mind for research for the MIDAS influenza modeling project, he asked Nathan to join his team.  Nathan worked to solve some data issues with the FRED model that they were using and then he moved on to working on developing a new vector model for mosquitoes to better track and predict spread of the Dengue virus.

Later, Bruce Lee at Pitt, who had done some economic modeling for the VECNet project, got Shawn and Nathan involved.  The VECNet project needed a cyberinfrastructure that would help further the research, but they just hadn’t been ready to justify it.  Nathan did an applications analysis, which had not been done before, to justify and project the need for a more complete cyberinfrastructure for the project.  Proposal writing and contract negotiations took over a year, including traveling and meeting with various project collaborators and end-users (a.k.a. “stake holders”).  All of the hard work paid off recently when a generous grant of $1.6 million was awarded to make this proposed cyberinfrastructure a reality.

Now, Nathan is the project manager of the CI team and is ensuring that all of the pieces come together to help provide the VECNet team with tools that will make their research and collaboration more effective and efficient.

When Nathan’s not trying to save the world, one mosquito at a time, you can find him spending time with his family. He has 5 kids: two boys and three girls.  He also enjoys hunting, and driving his co-workers mad with his Star Trek electronic door chime.



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