August 12, 2010

Students Get a Taste of Supercomputing at TeraGrid Conference

by Bill Bell

Getting their foot in the door

More than 110 students experienced the TeraGrid ’10 conference, and many took home awards for their research and programming skills.

TG10 students group shot It wasn’t hard to spot the students who took part in the TeraGrid ’10 conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., August 2-5. All you had to do was look for the yellow shirts.

More than 100 students took part in the event — graduate students, undergrads, and high schoolers. Their expenses were paid by the National Science Foundation.

“Someone, somewhere has to give them this opportunity to see what a career in computational science might look like, and TeraGrid is a very welcoming community,” says Laura McGinnis, manager of education, outreach and training at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. McGinnis chaired the student program, which is now in its second year.

“We wanted to give these students a gentle introduction to what a national conference is like. It lets them see science and engineering in action. And it gives them life experience — some have never checked into a hotel by themselves before, they’ve never flown before,” McGinnis says.

Others are quite experienced. David Fiala, for example, will enter North Carolina State University in the fall as a PhD student. This comes after spending the summer at the National Institute for Computational Sciences, a TeraGrid resource provider at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. As an intern at NICS, he worked on security issues surrounding the Kraken supercomputer.

“[The conference] really helps us get our foot in the door,” Fiala says. “I wanted to meet people in the field.”

TG10 female students show their posterAbout 25 students presented posters on research they are conducting. That’s more than half the posters presented at the Tuesday-night poster session. The students covered everything from cosmology to climate modeling, wastewater to polymer chains, visualization to task migration techniques.

Two student posters were awarded best poster honors. Louisiana State University’s Michael Thomas won for his poster “Simulation Factory: Simplified Simulation Management;” and The University of Georgia’s Sairam Tangirala won for “Role of Diffusion in Scaling of Polymer Chain Aggregates Found in Chemical Vapor Deposition Growth Model.”

Another 25 students took part in a programming competition. The competition included a day of tutorials and training tailored to the students’ skill level. Five teams then had 24 hours to solve a set of five science- and computational science-oriented questions, tuning existing computing code, running jobs on TeraGrid resources, and comparing benchmarking results.

The team from Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland won the programming contest in the high school division. The team included Jacob Hurwitz, David Kaufman, Lori Kaufman, Charlie Pasternak, and coach Susan Ragan. In the post-secondary division, the winners came from Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania. Members included Eric Hontz, Ryan Houlihan, Chris MacDermaid, Peter Shannon, Moussa Taifi, and coach Axel Kohlmeyer.

“They were working on real iron for the competition, and they all receive educational allocations on TeraGrid after the conference so they can continue to learn about working with large systems and parallel processes,” McGinnis says.

Throughout the conference, student attendees also volunteered and helped keep the conference running. They also attended the professional science, technology, and education presentations that were part of the event.