An Astrophysicist’s Perspective at eLynx

Mar 24, 2017

Our work at eLynx Technologies isn’t astrophysics – but it does require the expertise of astrophysicists.

That’s why we hired Tilan Ukwatta, a data scientist and astrophysicist whose past work included tracking the creation and explosions of black holes.

Now, Ukwatta is helping us make the oil and gas industry smarter, safer and more productive.

At eLynx, Ukwatta is advancing our work in machine learning, developing complex computer models that analyze troves of real-time and historical data to monitor and improve wells.

Data can tell us all sorts of stories, but they’re often hidden. To that end, Ukwatta is a data whisperer, revealing exactly what data is saying.

Ukwatta is part of our team developing models that quickly analyze real-time data from wells and detect anomalies. Once the model finds the needle in the haystack, operators can divert extra attention where it’s needed.

“Some companies have thousands of wells. Every day they cannot look at thousands of wells in five or ten minutes,” Ukwatta said. “We find wells showing weird behavior and say, ‘Look at these.’ By looking at these, you can get even more insight as to what’s going on.”

Ukwatta’s team also analyzes years of historical data, which is an important facet of eLynx’s strategy to continually break ground in the industry.

The team runs predictive models to find new ways to optimize well production. By using these models, operators don’t have to do trial-and-error experiments in the field and can make changes only after they are supported by data.

Analyzing historical data could also allow computers to predict leaks and other problems before they happen. They can also uncover valuable insights that were previously unknown.

Ukwatta, who is from Sri Lanka, said astronomy was always his childhood passion. After spending 12 years in astrophysics, Ukwatta said he needed a change.

Now, he feels refreshed by the new challenges in the oil and gas industry.

“It’s the same techniques, different domain,” he said. “I see a lot of potential about what I can do with it.”

Ukwatta earned a doctorate in physics and astrophysics from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. His thesis work included studying Gamma Ray Bursts – or cosmic explosions that signal birth of black holes – by analyzing data from the NASA’s Swift gamma-ray observatory and working with the Swift team at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

He then continued his postdoctoral research, working with Michigan State University to develop a cutting edge very-high-energy gamma ray observatory called HAWC in Mexico.

He then moved to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico as a prestigious Director’s Postdoctoral Fellow, continuing his research on gamma ray bursts. There, he worked to develop machine learning models by analyzing data from various satellites and observatories to predict characteristics of cosmic explosions.

In his past work, Ukwatta often worked alone in his research. After several months with eLynx, Ukwatta says working closely with a smart team is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.

He also appreciates working in an atmosphere that encourages thinking outside of the box, a philosophy that has always guided him to success.

“Don’t think like everyone else thinks,” he said. “eLynx encourages this.”