Astrophysicist with a Focus on User Support


Margarita Egelhofer earned her doctorate in astrophysics and conducted research in Italy and Germany on fundamental questions about life and its origins. Now she supports researchers in their work with the supercomputers at the Leibniz Computing Center.

When she was a young child, Dr. Margarita Egelhofer was already dreaming of space. In those days, people could talk to one another through landline telephone receivers in different rooms of a house. Egelhofer’s father would send her to another room in the house and he would change his voice so she would think she was “talking to aliens” with him. From that point on, Egelhofer dreamed about being an astronaut. As she grew up, she decided that focusing instead on astrophysics allowed her to keep her feet on the ground but stay focused on the stars in her professional life.

Exploring the cosmos and life

In addition to developing an interest in astrophysics while growing up, Egelhofer also loved to tinker with electronic devices, opening them up to see how they worked on the inside. In high school, she took courses in programming and computer science. Those formative experiences galvanized Egelhofer’s deep love for studying space topics, and ultimately led to her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Astrophysics at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany. She parlayed that experience into a PhD in Physics at Ludwigs-Maximillians-Universität in Munich, working during that period under Gauss Centre for Supercomputing (GCS) power user Prof. Volker Springel at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA).

“The interest in astrophysics came naturally,” Egelhofer said. “It is an abstract thing to study – the universe is vast and largely unknown. Just like thinking about aliens when I was younger, I was attracted to learning about these mysteries.” After nearly a decade of rotating post-doctoral appointments and research staff positions in Germany and Italy, Egelhofer joined the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) staff in 2022 as part of the center’s computational support team. Her appointment falls squarely in line with priorities at LRZ and the GCS centers more broadly: in order to provide new levels of user support, GCS is focused on filling out user support teams with computational scientists that have extensive experiences in a particular scientific domain.

Practical help for researchers

Egelhofer is part of the computational support team that focuses specifically on helping astrophysicists and cosmologists. While LRZ users benefit from that domain-specific expertise, she quipped that her field is expanding more rapidly than our universe. “During my time in the field, it feels like many things in cosmology research have changed, but at the same time, many things have remained the same,” she said. “The biggest change, though, might be the ratio of the science we are working on to the manpower available to support it – we simply don’t have all the manpower necessary to do all the science that we collectively want to do.”

That divide was part of the motivation for Egelhofer to pivot from being a researcher to supporting a larger group of researchers at LRZ. By helping scientists efficiently port their application and optimize them to run on LRZ’s resources, Egelhofer is able support teams that have less computational expertise and ensure that world-class computational resources at LRZ are used as efficiently as possible.

Those computational resources are also expanding rapidly at the GCS centers. Over the last two years, LRZ has received both new compute nodes for its upcoming system upgrade, SuperMUC-NG Phase 2. Furthermore, the center has invested heavily in a suite of smaller systems with architectures suited for experimenting with new artificial intelligence methods or evaluating quantum computing devices. This means that user support staff members must keep up with the state of the art in their respective research domains while also continuing to actively learn the latest trends in emergent, disruptive realms of computing, such as GPU programming.

While these changes have come quickly, Egelhofer ultimately celebrates how rapid-fire computing advancements ultimately benefit research. “More computational power has presented us with new research opportunities,” she said. “But since computer architectures themselves have started to change so significantly, it presents an opportunity for us to work closer with the user and modify existing methods that might have been inefficient and develop something better.”

Always at the cutting edge of science

While Egelhofer does not know how these fast-paced changes will ultimately impact the field of cosmology in the near term, she is happy to be in a role where she can contribute to cutting-edge research in a work environment that she enjoys. In addition to being exposed to interesting astrophysics research daily, she indicated that the highlight of her role at LRZ is working in an interesting, diverse group of coworkers. “In this user support role, I really value the opportunity to work with people from a variety of different fields, as I get to hear about interesting science happening in completely different disciplines,” she said. “Further, women like me in science and in computing are a small minority, but we are well-represented in roles across LRZ, and it is really great to feel represented in that regard.”  Eric Gedenk


Dr. Margarita Egelhofer, astrophysist and member of the CXS team at LRZ