XSEDE16 Program Emphasizes Inclusion, Says Chair Kelly Gaither

By Tiffany Trader

June 29, 2016

Ahead of XSEDE16, which takes place in Miami from July 17-21, HPCwire reached out to conference chair Dr. Kelly Gaither to get the inside track on this year’s program, her work in scientific visualization and her commitment to increasing diversity in HPC. Gaither serves as the director of Visualization at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at The University of Texas at Austin. She has over 30 refereed publications in fields ranging from computational mechanics to supercomputing applications to scientific visualization. Over the past ten years, she has actively participated in conferences related to her field and has given numerous invited talks.


Dr. Gaither received her doctoral degree in Computational Engineering from Mississippi State University in May 2000, and received her masters and bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Texas A&M University in 1992 and 1988 respectively.

HPCwire: We understand that the XSEDE16 Conference will be held in Miami from July 17-21. What can attendees expect this year?

Kelly Gaither: Attendees can expect a diverse and exciting program that showcases discoveries, innovations, challenges and achievements of people working at the cutting edge of science and technology. As a committee, we have made a concerted effort to focus on inclusion and opportunities for those from underrepresented communities in the advanced computing space.

HPCwire: The theme of XSEDE16 is “Diversity, Big Data, and Science at Scale” – you recently wrote about your commitment to increasing diversity within HPC. How is XSEDE tackling these issues?

Gaither: We are focused on both diversity and inclusion. As has been said by my colleagues in the past, diversity is a reflection of the makeup of the attendees; inclusion is the quality of the experience they have once they are there. To that end, we have sought out plenary speakers that are engaged in cutting edge science, education and outreach, but also are themselves underrepresented. Dr. Pamela McCauley is an award winning professor at the University of Central Florida in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems. She will give a plenary talk on Tuesday morning on the critical impact of innovation. On Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Helen Turner from Chaminade University in Hawaii will talk about the positive results she has had integrating science, culture and privilege in Hawaii. Additionally, we have a very strong student program with approximately 100 students participating in one or more aspects of the conference. The XSEDE signature modeling day engages students to work on problems relevant to modern society. To promote strong participation by local students, Florida institutions held spring modeling challenges on their campuses resulting in over a dozen students from Florida A&M and Florida State Universities winning travel grants to attend the conference.

HPCwire: Any other program details you’d like to share?

Gaither: In addition to the student modeling challenge and the student volunteer program, we will engage the local Miami community by hosting guided tours of the posters and visualization exhibits. This will include local area college and high school students to spark interest in the STEM fields and expose them to cutting edge science and technology.

HPCwire: This is the fifth annual XSEDE conference, with TeraGrid (the precursor to XSEDE) hosting summer conferences dating back to 2006. As you look back on the last decade, how has the event grown and evolved?

Gaither: Over the last several years, it has become clear that the XSEDE conference fills a much needed roll in the practical and applied aspects of cutting edge science at the largest scales. We have begun an effort to take advantage of the gap that this conference fills and create a venue that will live beyond any existing or future funded projects. We believe that XSEDE will evolve to play a significant role in providing a venue for state of the practice in science and technology applications and best practices.

HPCwire: Please provide an overview of TACC’s visualization program. What resources are available to XSEDE?

Gaither: TACC’s visualization program is focused on all aspects of visualization from soup to nuts or data to insight. We have two major focus areas: scalable visualization technologies and visualization interfaces and applications. We have grown from a small group of just a few to approximately 15 full time people and on average about 10 students. We have the good fortune and privilege to work at the intersection of science and exploration and we work on a diverse set of disciplines ranging from bio-informatics to computational fluid dynamics to large-scale systems of systems. We provide resources and services. We do research and development on cutting edge problems and we train the next generation of scientists.

HPCwire: What is the role of scientific visualization?

Gaither: Scientific visualization plays a critical role in allowing us to leverage our visual system to rapidly analyze and understand very complex scientific phenomena. We leverage the largest bandwidth channel to our brain by creating images and pictures of science and using these to help us more quickly analyze what would otherwise take months to wade through.

HPCwire: How is the scientific visualization landscape evolving in response to dominant trends, e.g., architectural diversity, extreme-scale computing and big data?

Gaither: Visualization in general has evolved significantly since I started in the field almost 30 years ago. We have evolved from thinking specifically about scientific visualization to now thinking about problem solving or science discovery environments enabled by visual analytics. We are now as concerned about the data analytics as we are the resulting imagery. Additionally, we are constantly concerned with the volume of data and the time to insight needed to maintain relevance with the underlying science.

HPCwire: You also run the state-of-the-art TACC Visualization Laboratory – what kinds of activities take place there?

Gaither: In the TACC visualization laboratories – one production facility on campus and one experimental facility at TACC proper, we provide user support and we research cutting edge issues in large scaled tiled displays, human computer and human data interaction, and perception. We have evolved from using commercially supported technologies to designing and building our own display devices an interaction protocols. We also research the recent resurgence of virtual and augmented reality mechanisms as they apply to large scale science and informatics.

HPCwire: What advice do you have for first-time attendees for getting the most out of their XSEDE16 experience?

Gaither: Enjoy the full experience. As a committee, we have tried to make a diverse and engaging program of activities that will be of interest to everyone. There are four tracks, each of which will be of interest to all attendees. We have over 25 tutorials on Monday that are sure to be of interest to everyone. We have excellent plenary speakers that will inspire and engage us. We have four parallel paper tracks Tuesday through Thursday: Accelerating Discovery, Software, Technology, and Workforce Development. Additionally, we have a number of invited speakers and panels that will be engaging and thought provoking.

HPCwire: What are you most looking forward to at XSEDE16?

Gaither: I’m looking forward to all of it to be honest. We have worked very hard to put a program together that discusses relevant issues in our times and to provoke discussion amongst our community. We have worked hard to focus on inclusion and I’m excited to see how well this venue and the program is received. If you are looking to learn, think, and discuss emerging practical science and technology issues, XSEDE16 is the conference you should attend. I look forward to seeing everyone there!

Additional Information

XSEDE16 Registration: Online registration ends on July 15 at 5:00 pm ET with onsite registration also an option. To register, click here.

XSEDE16 Hotel Reservations: Attendees are encouraged to make their hotel reservations as space and availability are limited. Click here to make your reservation by phone, or call (888) 424-6835 or 1-88 IC HOTELS, and reference the XSEDE16 Conference.

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