EAC Focus - James L Phillips

Mathematics & Engineering Analysis Manager, The Boeing Company

Numerical analyst James L. Phillips knew well before he entered college that mathematics was the most interesting subject of any he had encountered. "Having started there, I eventually became more and more attracted to numerical analysis," he says. "I found a sense of satisfaction in being able to use the computer to develop good approximate solutions to problems that could not be solved analytically."

Phillips majored in mathematics at Montana State University, receiving his B.S. in 1965. He then attended Purdue University, where he earned an M.S. and Ph.D. in computer science, with emphasis in numerical analysis in 1967 and 1969. Although he considered going into industry immediately after graduate school, he decided to accept a faculty position at Washington State University, where he taught and conducted research in mathematics and computer science for eight years.

The turning point in Phillips' career came during a year-long leave of absence spent at The Boeing Company, where he worked on problems in surface representation related to geometric design. He found that he enjoyed using mathematics to solve real-world problems, and has continued to derive satisfaction from seeing mathematics applied in challenging situations that arise in the aerospace industry.

Now a 20-year employee of Boeing, Phillips is head of the Mathematics and Engineering Analysis division of Applied Research and Technology, an organization chartered with creating, evaluating, and disseminating advanced technology in computer science and applied mathematics to improve Boeing products and processes. The group is part of the Shared Services Group, which supports commerical airplane, defense, and space projects. He manages 85 mathematicians and computational engineers who provide high-level mathematical support in many application areas, including aerodynamics, electromagnetics, flight controls, manufacturing technology, airplane marketing, and parts fabrication. "This is one of the most outstanding groups of mathematicians in private industry today," he says.

The development of high performance aerospace vehicles gives rise to many challenging computational mathematics problems. CRPC researcher and Rice University Professor John Dennis, an optimization expert, became intrigued with some of the optimization problems being studied in Phillips' unit after discussions with Boeing mathematicians at a SIAM meeting several years ago. This led to ongoing collaborative work involving Dennis and some of his students, Boeing mathematicians, and others at IBM.

Dennis spent his 1996/1997 sabbatical year at Boeing. One class of problems recently addressed by the group was the optimal design of helicopter rotor blades, a nonlinear optimization problem involving 56 design variables and which requires the running of a multi-disciplinary analysis code consuming 4 hours of supercomputer time for each evaluation of the objective function. (See, "Applying Optimization to Industrial Product Design," Winter 1997 Parallel Computing Research.)

"We need to solve a variety of large problems that incorporate simulations of complex systems using higher fidelity physics and analyses involving several disciplines," says Phillips. "This will continue to tax our ingenuity despite the many advances in hardware, algorithms, and supporting software infrastructures."

A member of the CRPC External Advisory Committee (EAC) since 1997, Phillips says, "The computational issues that the CRPC is addressing are extremely important ones. The role of the EAC is to provide different perspectives on the strategic directions that the center is taking. With the outstanding computational scientists involved in the CRPC, being part of the EAC is highly educational. I hope I can contribute as much as I gain from this experience."

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