I recently asked my son, a first year Ph.D. Neuroscience student at a leading New England university, what he knows about high performance computing or supercomputing. His first response was (somewhat kidding), “Do you mean like the old Cray computer that was used in Jurassic Park?”
Well, yeah… but I would have thought that a young researcher might have run across HPC in his post-baccalaureate science courses at Harvard, or during the three years he worked as a senior research technologist in the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease (MIND) doing mouse brain research, or during his first year of doctoral work. Wouldn’t you? Turns out he’s never heard anyone on any of his research teams talk about HPC or supercomputers. Nor has the technology’s role in the hard sciences been incorporated into the curricula.
I happen to know that his undergraduate institution, the University of Massachusetts, is the same one whose physics department assembled the PS3Gravity Grid, a sixteen PS3 cluster, to explore black holes, and that his current academic institution is home to an advanced computing center with great resources. We won’t even discuss Harvard.
Every conference I have attended in the last year has included discussions on the next generation of HPC users, and researchers and vendors alike bemoan the fact that we are not preparing this next generation to use the high performance computing technology all of you rely on. To quote from the announcement for the upcoming International Advanced Research Workshop on High Performance Computing and Grids, June 30-July 4 in Cetraro, Italy: “HPC is viewed as one of the most important technologies of the 21st Century…. Significant amounts of energy and financial resources have been invested by governments and private sectors for building adequate infrastructures and human skills to enable the expected benefits. Yet, despite many spectacular accomplishments of HPC, this tool is still underutilized by many academic schools, industrial companies and businesses.”
As the person who’s been helping with the tuition for the last eight years, I have a vested interest in raising awareness of the underutilization of HPC in academia, particularly among the undergraduate and graduate student populations. You all have a vested interest as well. So, the question is, what can we, all of us in the HPC community, do to raise awareness and get this knowledge and skill set into the hands of tomorrow’s scientists, researchers and engineers?