How this alumnus' research balances theory and application

Drew Kouri '12 went to work at Sandia National Laboratory, where he is a principal member of the technical staff.

Drew Kouri

As a mathematician, Drew Kouri maintains a nicely calibrated research balance between theory and the demands of application.

“I suppose every mathematician feels that tension. At Sandia, of course, our projects tend to be more applied. That’s my job, though I gravitate toward more fundamental research,” said Kouri, who earned his Ph.D. in computational and applied mathematics (CAAM) from Rice University in 2012.

The following year he went to work at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, where he is now a principal member of the technical staff.

“Drew is one of the rare people with outstanding expertise in mathematical theory and large-scale computations. He has become a major researcher in the area of PDE-constrained optimization under uncertainty,” said his doctoral adviser, Matthias Heinkenschloss, the Noah G. Harding Chair and Professor of CAAM.

“He is leading several research projects in this area, collaborates with faculty from major universities and regularly publishes in top international scientific journals.”

PDE’s are partial differential equations. PDE-constrained optimization is a strategy for improving the performance of large-scale physical systems – designing an aircraft wing, for instance, so it can withstand punishing amounts of pressure.

“An important topic here is reliability. Sandia is a Department of Energy-funded lab, and DoE is the steward of our nuclear stockpile. They need a reliable way to test and secure that stockpile,” Kouri said.

The future mathematician was born in Akron and grew up in Marysville, Ohio. His mother was a computer programmer and later a substitute teacher and a elementary-school librarian, and his father worked as an IT manager for Honda of America. Like many budding engineers he played with Legos, worked math puzzles and in middle school joined the math club.

Kouri earned his B.S. and M.S. in mathematics from Case Western Reserve University in 2008. In 2010, he earned his M.A. in CAAM from Rice, and his doctorate two years later. His dissertation was titled “An Approach for the Adaptive Solution of Optimization Problems Governed by Partial Differential Equations with Uncertain Coefficients.”

Before attending Rice, Kouri was deeply influenced by the book Numerical Methods for Unconstrained Optimization and Nonlinear Equations, co-authored in 1983 by John E. Dennis, Jr., the Noah Harding Professor Emeritus and Research Professor in CAAM at Rice.

“That book had a big impact on me. It helped me realize which part of the field I wanted to focus on,” he said.

After earning his Ph.D., Kouri was the J.H. Wilkinson Fellow at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois before joining Sandia in 2013. For four years at Rice, Kouri was a member of the masters swim team and met his wife, Angela Wo ’10, at the Rice pool. Wo was a varsity swimmer as an undergraduate studying kinesiology. They have two children.

At Sandia, Kouri works closely with two other CAAM graduates, Denis Ridzal (Ph.D. ’06) and Sean Hardesty (Ph.D. ’10). “We are always busy at Sandia, working on a lot of projects. We develop software and publish technical papers. It helps to have good colleagues,” he said.