Professor of the Week: Orion Lawlor

Name: Orion Lawlor
Department: Computer Science.
Years Teaching at UAF: 5 years

What interests you about computer science?

“Computer simulations integrate beautifully into everything anybody can do.  So simulations let me explore astrophysics, art, biochemistry, economics, mapping, manufacturing, and every other discipline!”
What experience do you have in your field outside of the classroom?

“As an undergraduate at UAF, I worked for the Alaska Satellite Facility, writing image analysis programs for ‘interferometric SAR’, a satellite technique used to build elevation models in remote areas, measure glacier movement and track earthquakes.
As a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I worked in the Charm++ Parallel Programming Lab, which works with several dozen different groups to help run their simulations on supercomputers.
After I got my Master’s degree, I worked with the Center for Simulation of Advanced Rockets, an amazingly diverse group of specialists who built a program to simulate large supersonic rockets, like the Space Shuttle’s solid rocket boosters.
Recently, I’ve been building robots, and working on programming graphics cards even for non-graphics problems.  I’ve seen programs that run a thousand times faster on the graphics card than on a normal computer, which can be the difference between giving up, or getting a very interesting answer!”

What is the “best” excuse you have heard from a student?
‘“Somebody unplugged my car’ is probably the perfect combination of plausible and unverifiable.”
What are the qualities that you feel makes a good student?
“It’s actually the end of the project where a good student shines.  Everybody’s excited at the start of a new project, but after a few weeks of hard work any topic will start to seem useless and boring.  As you approach the end, a good student will have the tenacity to keep working, and see it through.  Edison said ‘Genius is one percent inspiration, and 99 percent perspiration.’”
What are the qualities you think makes a good professor?
“The same as make a good student, mixed with the ability to efficiently handle many projects at once.  Being easy to find and talk with is also important.”
What’s the best thing about teaching at UAF?
“The students are quite good, the classes are small, I like my office, but I think the best thing about UAF is Alaska.  It’s a place like nowhere else.

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