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Blue Waters supercomputer power-user profile: Seid Koric

by: Hannah Remmert

Every year, many people perform research on Blue Waters, the massive supercomputer hosted by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. However, very few can say that they’ve published research on Blue Waters an impressive 22 times, as NCSA’s own Seid Koric has done.

In 1997, Koric made his way to the university in order to pursue a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering. Along the way, he was hired by NCSA as a summer employee and was asked to continue working at the center throughout the academic year.

“I was looking for research assistantship possibilities. I met Dr. Fouad Ahmad who worked at NCSA at the time, he was advertising a position for a research assistant. It sounded pretty cool, I didn’t even know what supercomputers were! So I went there and interviewed with the gentleman and he offered me a summer job. When the semester started, he said I had done a good job and asked me to stay on throughout my Master’s degree.”

Upon completion of his Master’s degree in 1999, and throughout his time as a Ph.D. student (2001-2006, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering), Koric worked full-time at NCSA, starting out providing user support and consulting for computational mechanics and other engineering applications. During his time at NCSA, Koric has consulted for many generations of HPC architecture and has been a part of many different projects. Today, he is the Technical Program Manager for the NCSA Industry Program, which is the largest industrial HPC outreach program in the world. He is also a Research Associate Professor within the Mechanical Science and Engineering Department.

Koric’s role at NCSA has allowed him to do a variety of research on Blue Waters. His expertise spreads very wide, covering multiphysics, sparse linear solvers, biomechanics, fractal mechanics, materials processing, finite element method, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), GPUs, and industrial HPC computing.

Along with various collaborators from NCSA, NCSA’s Industrial Partners, and research institutions all across the globe, Koric has authored and co-authored a total of 22 research publications from his research on Blue Waters. These publications have been released in journals, conference papers, and even a book chapter.

His research has been highly influential, earning him an array of HPC awards.

In 2014, Koric was part of a team that broke the record for the largest coupled multiphysics engineering simulation, done using the Alya multiphysics code from the Barcelona Supercomputing Center. To solve coupled electrophysiology and cardiac mechanics of the heart or a turbulent flow coupled with combustion in industrial furnace on 4 billion computational cells Koric used 100,000 cores on Blue Waters. (To give you an idea of how much that is, it would take a standard laptop about 18 years to accomplish what they were able to do on Blue Waters in about two hours.) For this simulation, they were awarded a top Supercomputing Achievement Award of the year by HPCwire at SC14. According to Koric, this was a proud moment not only because they broke a record or won an award, but because they pushed the boundaries of engineering applications.

Koric has also developed, implemented, and tested several groundbreaking numerical methods for solving highly non-linear multiphysics and multiphase problems on HPC, and most notably steel solidification, working with the University of Illinois Continuous Casting Consortium, under the direction of Brian G. Thomas.

But Koric says he isn’t ready to stop yet. “Many people ask me why I stuck around, why I stayed so long. I think for all these great things that are happening at NCSA, for all these generations of HPC that I tested and witnessed here, and also for all these great things happening with industry right now, where I can see applied things and also fundamental things and collaborating with Illinois faculty and NCSA and industrial colleagues. That’s why I’ve stayed.”

When asked what motivates him to continue performing new research, Koric responded that it was both the excitement and variety of the work he’s doing.

“I see very applied things from our industry partners because usually they don’t have time for research so they do very applied things here at NCSA. But on the other hand, I can see very fundamental research things being adjunct faculty at MechSE. So I think it’s very exciting here at NCSA, I was able to cover a whole spectrum from very fundamental things, to R&D at industry, to application of R&D for design and optimization of things that companies like Caterpillar or Rolls Royce are using everyday.”

Koric is looking forward to many things in the future of NCSA, like all the research possibilities on a new exascale system, which will hopefully replace Blue Waters someday.

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