Educating the next generation of supercomputer users with Blue Waters

05.15.20 -

Groundbreaking research, like everything, requires a careful concoction of resources. First, it requires a researcher with advanced expertise in the given subject-matter. Next, you must have access to the tools and computing systems that are powerful enough to take an idea and turn it into tangible analysis. Beyond that, the ability to use those resources effectively is vital to producing results.

An equally-important but often-overlooked component of groundbreaking research, however, is the building of the educational pipeline - a workforce that is trained in relevant and necessary skills - in order to advance and sustain the research being conducted. This pipeline is crucial to guaranteeing that high-level research will continue to enhance discovery and competitiveness.

Through a Blue Waters internship program allocation for her student John McGarigal, Dr. Tulin Kaman, an Assistant Professor in Mathematical Sciences from the University of Arkansas, sought to do just that. By participating in the Blue Waters Internship Program, not only do her students gain experience studying turbulent flows in fusion, but they are also able to incorporate one of the world’s most powerful advanced computing systems into their education.

“We do a numerical simulation of realistic applications, which typically occur in Supernova explosions. This occurs in a type of fusion where the confinement is inertial, gravitational and magnetic,” said Kaman.

In order to perform these massive simulations, however, a large-scale computing system is necessary.

“The mathematical model and numerical simulations are extremely computationally intensive and Blue Waters was a great resource for us to run these simulations on.”

Beyond the computational power of Blue Waters, however, the educational component of the Blue Waters system was perhaps the most exciting aspect to Kaman. The Blue Waters Internship Program provided Kaman’s student, John McGarigal, and Kaman an opportunity where she was able to bring her undergraduate students directly into the supercomputing research ecosystem, allowing them vital hands-on experience in simulating turbulent flows.

“Every year, Blue Waters chose interns, and I had two University of Arkansas undergrad students that would be a good fit,” said Kaman. “My goal was to motivate and train them in high- performance computing, and with the help of Blue Waters, we could actually introduce the use of petascale computing to them, keep them in this field, and give them motivation to succeed.”

Via this internship, Kaman’s student has gained a multitude of skills, all of which are necessary to conduct research at the petascale, but more emphatically, they will carry these skills on with them in their future pursuits.

“Through the program, our goal was to teach [our interns] parallel programming models like MPI, distributed memory, OpenMP, etc., and to try to create new development codes, which they did,” continued Kaman. “This year one of them had an internship at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee, and the other has started an internship in Hewlett-Packard in Texas, where they plan to continue in the direction of high-performance computing.

From the vital experience gained in the Blue Waters Internship Program, Kaman’s students were able to gain the skills necessary to flourish in research, development and professional careers in all sectors of society, and are active examples of the importance of establishing an HPC-competent workforce pipeline.

About NCSA

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides supercomputing and advanced digital resources for the nation's science enterprise. At NCSA, University of Illinois faculty, staff, students, and collaborators from around the globe use advanced digital resources to address research grand challenges for the benefit of science and society. NCSA has been advancing one third of the Fortune 50® for more than 30 years by bringing industry, researchers, and students together to solve grand challenges at rapid speed and scale.

National Science Foundation

Blue Waters is supported by the National Science Foundation through awards OCI-0725070 and ACI-1238993.