Xiaoxiang Zhu Receives the 2018 PRACE Ada Lovelace Award for HPC

By Elizabeth Leake

June 13, 2018

Xiaoxiang Zhu (晓香) who works for the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and Technical University of Munich (TUM), was awarded the 2018 PRACE Ada Lovelace Award for HPC for her outstanding contributions in the field of high performance computing (HPC) in Europe.

Xiao Zhu; photo provided by Dr. Zhu

Dr. Zhu is a professor of Signal Processing in Earth Observation (SiPEO) at TUM and head of the Department EO Data Science at the DLR Remote Sensing Technology Institute.

This was the third year that the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) issued the Lovelace Award, and it was presented to Zhu on May 28 during the PRACEdays18 conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia, by Sinéad Ryan who chairs the PRACE Scientific Steering Committee.

I caught up with Dr. Zhu in Ljubljana, and she agreed to this interview.

Dr. Zhu, EO research is important to many disciplines, but it is complex and I imagine few understand how it is applied. How would you describe it to a layperson?

 “Urbanization is one of the most important megatrends of global change. Currently 55 percent of the world’s population lives in urban communities, and that percentage is ticking upward; in 1950, 30 percent lived in cities, but by 2050 it is expected that 68 percent will live in urban areas. By 2030, it is expected that 10 million will live in 43 megacities in developing regions. Some fear that if we don’t plan for growth in these regions, there could be mass famine, pandemics and social unrest.

“The United Nations has established goals for sustainable cities and communities, but in the developing countries where these megacities are expected to grow, the data we need to prepare simply aren’t available. While one in three city dwellers currently live in a slum, we have little information about informal settlements that tend to grow organically, and without a plan. Many births in these settlements are never recorded, which makes it impossible to plan for the children’s future.

“To close the data gap, my team is using satellite-based EO technologies to explore the semantic mapping of cities and their dynamics on a global scale. The five-year goal for my team is to generate the first ever global 3D urban models and their changes over time; which adds a fourth dimension. Along with semantics, 4D will allow us to estimate population density at any given time, which will help us scale the needed infrastructure and more effectively allocate finite public and private (foundation) funds to address the most urgent fundamental human needs, such as nutrition, health care, clean water and education.”

I see that you published your first paper in 2009, and your work has been cited 2,347 times according to Google Scholar; one of your earliest papers has been cited 301 times! Was that your favorite paper or accomplishment to date? The paper is: Zhu, X., Bamler, R., 2010. Tomographic SAR Inversion by L1-Norm Regularization — The Compressive Sensing Approach. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 48(10), 3839-3846.

“That’s a tough call! I love many of our papers, but I guess that one is my favorite since it convinced me early-on that I can make a difference with science, and it continues to motivate me today. It was the first time compressive sensing was exploited to improve the resolution of radar tomography up to 15 times. This made it possible to reconstruct dynamic city models with an unprecedented granularity of 1 million points per km^2 and with a time-stamp accuracy of better than mm/year, which allows us to monitor (and model) a more sophisticated, large scale urban infrastructure from space. For this work, I was awarded the Technology Review Germany “Innovators under 35,” and several other research awards.”

Who or what influenced you to pursue signal processing in EO science, and at what age?

My father is a teacher, and when I was a little girl, he would show me photos of earth that were taken from outer space. Since then, I have been fascinated with space. I was also interested in mathematicallydemanding tasks from a very early age; as a schoolgirl, I took part in mathematics competitions. On the other hand, I want to make a difference with my research, preferably with an interdisciplinary team. So what I am doing today is no coincidence: The use of satellite technology for EO perfectly combines my passion for space and mathematical aptitude.”

Xiao Zhu. Photo copyright PRACE 2018

EO sounds computationally-intensive, and complex. Could we automate processes so that researchers from a variety of domains could access and utilize the important data you mention without having to master the computational tasks?

“I do not believe the European Commission supports a Center of Excellence (CoE) for EO, but I think one would be useful. As you have observed, EO uses petabytes of data, addresses a large number of global problems, and requires mastery of and synergy among many hardware types, including CPU, GPU, and high data I/O. Due to this complexity, researchers from less computationally-intensive fields, or “long-tail disciplines,” may be intimidated by the prospect. But with a CoE, they would overcome such fear. Perhaps an online platform could be built that people from a range of disciplines would be comfortable using. If it functioned from the desktop with a common browser, it would allow them to select a region of interest with the click of a mouse, and then a particular task. For example, they may want to generate a cloud-free mosaic of their country. All of the complicated tasks and compute-intensive processesdata I/O, job submission, computation, and visualization—could be handled on the back-end, and the results could be delivered to their desktop in seconds, or minutes. This capacity would significantly boost scientific discovery in EO across disciplines towards a better understanding of our planet.”

You have worked in several countries as a guest scientist or visiting professor – Italy, China, Japan, the U.S. and Germany. Is there a common challenge or obstacle that these countries should work to overcome if they hope to accelerate the process of scientific discovery on behalf of humanity?

“While HPC resources are accessible to researchers at universities in these countries, more powerful systems are needed everywhere. The universal bottleneck tends to be a general lack of HPC skills, which is a global problem since, as I represent, the workforce is mobile and spread thin. In the EO field, there are only a small fraction of researchers who are skilled enough to write highly-scalable codes. But it would be costly to train the number of people needed for geoscientific research. Therefore, I believe CoE mentioned above, plus high-level support teams at HPC centers would be the key to success. Even better, rather than sitting at HPC centers and answering opportunistic questions, experts could work in the field, side-by-side, with interdisciplinary researchers on individual projects. A pool of highly-skilled professionals at HPC centers could be on loan to projects from different disciplines for a certain period of time.”

What could these centers do differently to encourage more girls and women to pursue STEM academics and careers, and what should they do to support them once they’re in the pipeline so they don’t leave?

“Initiating the “PRACE Ada Lovelace Award for HPC” is a great first step. This opportunity has given me a platform from which to share my story that other young women and girls may relate to. But we can do more. More female principal investigators, keynote speakers at technical conferences and senior leadership at major centers of excellence around the world should be a universal goal. When girls have identifiable role models, they can envision themselves succeeding in STEM fields. On the other hand, I have noticed positive change in my career to date, so things do seem to be progressing. Wise leadership understands that women represent half of their nation’s potential, so they deserve every advantage, and as early as possible in the education process. Personally, I am delighted to be an advocate for women in science.”

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

“My goals for the future relate more to the science than to my career. In ten years, I hope we have successfully generated the first ever models that will effectively inform global urban science. If we can help decision-makers in all fields provide a better quality of life for people who live in slums, I will feel an immense sense of accomplishment. I also pin hopes for the future on my students. For me, teaching is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work. I hope the doctoral students and postdocs I have mentored will achieve greatness; their success is my reward.”

What would you tell your ten-year-old self if you had the chance?

Zhu thought for a moment, and smiled, “I would tell her that life is beautiful, and so is science!”

Sinéad Ryan, Chair of the PRACE Scientific Steering Committee (left) and Dr. Zhu at PRACEdays18. Copyright PRACE 2018.

About Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (nee Byron: 10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) was an English mathematician and writer chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Her notes on the engine include what is recognized as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. As a result, she is often regarded as the first computer programmer (source Wikipedia).


The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) is an international non-profit association with its seat in Brussels. The PRACE Research Infrastructure provides a persistent world-class high performance computing service for scientists and researchers from academia and industry in Europe. The computer systems and their operations accessible through PRACE are provided by 5 PRACE members (BSC representing Spain, CINECA representing Italy, ETH Zurich/CSCS representing Switzerland, GCS representing Germany and GENCI representing France). The Implementation Phase of PRACE receives funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (2014-2020) under grant agreement 730913. For more information, see www.prace-ri.eu.

Watch for more news about PRACEdays18 in HPCwire. Meanwhile, mark your calendars for #PRACEdays19 and #EHPCSW19 in Poznan, Poland, May 13-17, 2019.

About the Author

HPCwire Contributing Editor Elizabeth Leake is a consultant, correspondent and advocate who serves the global high performance computing (HPC) and data science industries. In 2012, she founded STEM-Trek, a global, grassroots nonprofit organization that supports workforce development opportunities for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) scholars from underserved regions and underrepresented groups.

As a program director, Leake has mentored hundreds of early-career professionals who are breaking cultural barriers in an effort to accelerate scientific and engineering discoveries. Her multinational programs have specific themes that resonate with global stakeholders, such as food security data science, blockchain for social good, cybersecurity/risk mitigation, and more. As a conference blogger and communicator, her work drew recognition when STEM-Trek received the 2016 and 2017 HPCwire Editors’ Choice Awards for Workforce Diversity Leadership.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Tribute: Dr. Bob Borchers, 1936-2018

June 21, 2018

Dr. Bob Borchers, a leader in the high performance computing community for decades, passed away peacefully in Maui, Hawaii, on June 7th. His memorial service will be held on June 22nd in Reston, Virginia. Dr. Borchers Read more…

By Ann Redelfs

ISC 2018 Preview from @hpcnotes

June 21, 2018

Prepare for your social media feed to be saturated with #HPC, #ISC18, #Top500, etc. Prepare for your mainstream media to talk about supercomputers (in between the hourly commentary on Brexit, the FIFA World Cup, or US pr Read more…

By Andrew Jones

AMD’s EPYC Road to Redemption in Six Slides

June 21, 2018

A year ago AMD returned to the server market with its EPYC processor line. The earth didn’t tremble but folks took notice. People remember the Opteron fondly but later versions of the Bulldozer line not so much. Fast f Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPC and AI Convergence is Accelerating New Levels of Intelligence

Data analytics is the most valuable tool in the digital marketplace – so much so that organizations are employing high performance computing (HPC) capabilities to rapidly collect, share, and analyze endless streams of data. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Preview the World’s Smartest Supercomputer at ISC 2018

Introducing an accelerated IT infrastructure for HPC & AI workloads Read more…

Why Student Cluster Competitions are Better than World Cup

June 21, 2018

My last article about the ISC18 Student Cluster Competition, titled “World Cup is Lame Compared to This Competition”, may have implied that I believe Student Cluster Competitions are better than World Cup soccer in s Read more…

By Dan Olds

ISC 2018 Preview from @hpcnotes

June 21, 2018

Prepare for your social media feed to be saturated with #HPC, #ISC18, #Top500, etc. Prepare for your mainstream media to talk about supercomputers (in between t Read more…

By Andrew Jones

AMD’s EPYC Road to Redemption in Six Slides

June 21, 2018

A year ago AMD returned to the server market with its EPYC processor line. The earth didn’t tremble but folks took notice. People remember the Opteron fondly Read more…

By John Russell

European HPC Summit Week and PRACEdays 2018: Slaying Dragons and SHAPEing Futures One SME at a Time

June 20, 2018

The University of Ljubljana in Slovenia hosted the third annual EHPCSW18 and fifth annual PRACEdays18 events which opened May 29, 2018. The conference was chair Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake (STEM-Trek for HPCwire)

Cray Introduces All Flash Lustre Storage Solution Targeting HPC

June 19, 2018

Citing the rise of IOPS-intensive workflows and more affordable flash technology, Cray today introduced the L300F, a scalable all-flash storage solution whose p Read more…

By John Russell

Sandia to Take Delivery of World’s Largest Arm System

June 18, 2018

While the enterprise remains circumspect on prospects for Arm servers in the datacenter, the leadership HPC community is taking a bolder, brighter view of the x86 server CPU alternative. Amongst current and planned Arm HPC installations – i.e., the innovative Mont-Blanc project, led by Bull/Atos, the 'Isambard’ Cray XC50 going into the University of Bristol, and commitments from both Japan and France among others -- HPE is announcing that it will be supply the United States National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) with a 2.3 petaflops peak Arm-based system, named Astra. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Machine Learning Hype Cycle and HPC

June 14, 2018

Like many other HPC professionals I’m following the hype cycle around machine learning/deep learning with interest. I subscribe to the view that we’re probably approaching the ‘peak of inflated expectation’ but not quite yet starting the descent into the ‘trough of disillusionment. This still raises the probability that... Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Xiaoxiang Zhu Receives the 2018 PRACE Ada Lovelace Award for HPC

June 13, 2018

Xiaoxiang Zhu, who works for the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and Technical University of Munich (TUM), was awarded the 2018 PRACE Ada Lovelace Award for HPC for her outstanding contributions in the field of high performance computing (HPC) in Europe. Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake

U.S Considering Launch of National Quantum Initiative

June 11, 2018

Sometime this month the U.S. House Science Committee will introduce legislation to launch a 10-year National Quantum Initiative, according to a recent report by Read more…

By John Russell

MLPerf – Will New Machine Learning Benchmark Help Propel AI Forward?

May 2, 2018

Let the AI benchmarking wars begin. Today, a diverse group from academia and industry – Google, Baidu, Intel, AMD, Harvard, and Stanford among them – releas Read more…

By John Russell

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ORNL Summit Supercomputer Is Officially Here

June 8, 2018

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) together with IBM and Nvidia celebrated the official unveiling of the Department of Energy (DOE) Summit supercomputer toda Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hennessy & Patterson: A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture

April 17, 2018

On Monday June 4, 2018, 2017 A.M. Turing Award Winners John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson will deliver the Turing Lecture at the 45th International Sympo Read more…

By Staff

Leading Solution Providers

SC17 Booth Video Tours Playlist

Altair @ SC17


AMD @ SC17


ASRock Rack @ SC17

ASRock Rack



DDN Storage @ SC17

DDN Storage

Huawei @ SC17


IBM @ SC17


IBM Power Systems @ SC17

IBM Power Systems

Intel @ SC17


Lenovo @ SC17


Mellanox Technologies @ SC17

Mellanox Technologies

Microsoft @ SC17


Penguin Computing @ SC17

Penguin Computing

Pure Storage @ SC17

Pure Storage

Supericro @ SC17


Tyan @ SC17


Univa @ SC17


Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google I/O 2018: AI Everywhere; TPU 3.0 Delivers 100+ Petaflops but Requires Liquid Cooling

May 9, 2018

All things AI dominated discussion at yesterday’s opening of Google’s I/O 2018 developers meeting covering much of Google's near-term product roadmap. The e Read more…

By John Russell

Pattern Computer – Startup Claims Breakthrough in ‘Pattern Discovery’ Technology

May 23, 2018

If it weren’t for the heavy-hitter technology team behind start-up Pattern Computer, which emerged from stealth today in a live-streamed event from San Franci Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Ups Hardware Game with 16-GPU DGX-2 Server and 18-Port NVSwitch

March 27, 2018

Nvidia unveiled a raft of new products from its annual technology conference in San Jose today, and despite not offering up a new chip architecture, there were still a few surprises in store for HPC hardware aficionados. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Part One: Deep Dive into 2018 Trends in Life Sciences HPC

March 1, 2018

Life sciences is an interesting lens through which to see HPC. It is perhaps not an obvious choice, given life sciences’ relative newness as a heavy user of H Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Pledges First Commercial Nervana Product ‘Spring Crest’ in 2019

May 24, 2018

At its AI developer conference in San Francisco yesterday, Intel embraced a holistic approach to AI and showed off a broad AI portfolio that includes Xeon processors, Movidius technologies, FPGAs and Intel’s Nervana Neural Network Processors (NNPs), based on the technology it acquired in 2016. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Charts Two-Dimensional Quantum Course

April 26, 2018

Quantum error correction, essential for achieving universal fault-tolerant quantum computation, is one of the main challenges of the quantum computing field and it’s top of mind for Google’s John Martinis. At a presentation last week at the HPC User Forum in Tucson, Martinis, one of the world's foremost experts in quantum computing, emphasized... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cray Rolls Out AMD-Based CS500; More to Follow?

April 18, 2018

Cray was the latest OEM to bring AMD back into the fold with introduction today of a CS500 option based on AMD’s Epyc processor line. The move follows Cray’ Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This