Australian Teens Pick Up Supercomputing Knowledge, Souvenirs on Trip to SC15

By Jon Bashor, Berkeley Lab Communications Manager

November 20, 2015

Eight students from three specialized science schools in eastern Australia spent a week at the SC15 conference in Austin, Texas, with the goal of bringing home more than the usual conference swag — they came looking for information that will help them with computing projects at their schools and experiences that will spur their classmates’ interest in high performance computing.

The students were selected from the Queensland Academy of Science, Mathematics and Technology (QASMT), and the Faith Lutheran College, both in Brisbane, and the John Monash Science School in Melbourne. The students, all but one are in their 10th school year, were part of a program created several years ago by Prof. David Abramson of the University of Queensland.

“A big highlight for me was a panel presentation on post-Moore’s Law looking at digital, quantum and neuromorphic computing from the perspectives of different scientists,” said Dylan Sanusi-Goh of the John Monash Science School (JMSS). “I also went to a Microsoft talk on quantum programming and then they walked me through how to do it. Here you get to do something you couldn’t do otherwise.”

Paro Mitchell of JMSS said she was interested in how computers are getting much faster, but also wanted to know what will happen after Moore’s Law no longer applies, and the doubling of computing power per processor every 18 months which has driven the industry for decades comes to an end. “Supercomputers are such a great technology and I wanted to know what we are using it for.”

One area of research benefiting from supercomputing — the merging of black holes, their interactions and the gravitational waves that are generated caught the imagination of Olivia MacKenzie of the Queensland Academy.

Jess Woolley of JMSS said that although she hasn’t done any programming, she was learning a lot as the week progressed. At a visit to the nearby Texas Advanced Computing Center, she was excited to see an actual supercomputer and “how big and how loud they are, and see what’s inside of them.”

And learning about a wide range of science disciplines, possibilities and tools was one of the goals of the trip, said teacher Robyn Simpson of QASMT.

Linda McIver, a teacher at JMSS, said the students were selected partly for what they would bring back to get their schools excited about computing.

And the student have clear projects at their home institutions. At each of the three schools, they are installing sensors to measure different conditions in the buildings to make them both more efficient and more comfortable.

Jack Stubbs of the Queensland Academy said his group is rolling out eight sensors to help detect when and where the lights, air conditioning and heating should be on or off, “so we can be more eco-friendly.”

Sanusi-Goh said his group is installing sensors to measure light, sound, temperature and humidity in their school to improve future classroom design. His school consists of one building with three levels, and often the lower one is too cold while the top floor is too warm.

Woolley added that her group is interested in developing a system to better regulate classroom temperatures, which are set to 23 degrees Celsius, but the current system doesn’t take into account the effects of room occupancy.

Travis Jacob, the lone 11th year student in the group, and schoolmate Harrison Cook are using a few sensors to measure carbon dioxide levels to see how they rise and fall during the day at the Faith Lutheran College. They want to see if CO2 levels can be used to indicate room occupancy.

Teacher Stephen Blair of Faith Lutheran College said the projects help show the students the value to solid data when making their cases about classroom conditions to school administrators and pointing out ways to improve their environments.

The students received travel support from Monash University, the University of Queensland, their schools, and they have corporate sponsorships from SGI and ScaleMP.

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