2020 HPCwire Awards Celebrate Supercomputing Achievements in the Sciences

By the Editorial Team

December 23, 2020

It was not a typical year for supercomputing in the sciences. When the pandemic struck, virtually every research supercomputer in the world pivoted much of its capacity to COVID-19 research, and the remarkable results of those efforts are chronicled in this feature article

Even in such strained conditions, however, many researchers used supercomputing power to conduct impressive scientific research in a wide variety of other fields. This research was honored by the 17th annual HPCwire Readers’ and Editors’ Choice awards program, presented during the virtual SC20 conference.

Looking inward

Much of 2020’s highest-profile life sciences work, of course, was dominated by COVID-19 – but researchers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital managed to break through anyway, earning the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in Life Sciences. The St. Jude researchers used DDN storage and Nvidia A100 GPUs to develop a method that integrates whole-genome and transcriptome sequencing data from a lone cancer sample to discover regulatory noncoding variants.

Home improvement

The improvement in resolution from a 9km simulation to the 1km simulation, compared to a satellite image (bottom right). Image courtesy of ECMWF.

The pandemic may have captured most of the world’s apocalyptic attention, but climate change continues to ramp up, with 2020 presenting a record-breaking hurricane season and, pending final numbers, the hottest year on record. Researchers at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts won the Readers’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in Physical Sciences for unprecedented simulations run on Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit supercomputer, which remains the most powerful publicly ranked supercomputer in the U.S. The simulations captured the entire atmosphere of the planet at a one-kilometer resolution for a full four-month season.

“Simulations at one-kilometer resolution will allow us to make better forecasts of extreme weather events, including the potential for tornadoes,” Valentine Anatharaj, a computational climate scientist at Oak Ridge, told HPCwire. “This baseline simulation is already being used to plan for future satellite missions.”

Meanwhile, researchers from Georgia Tech and the Hanoi University of Science and Technology joined forces to work on solutions to the climate crisis. The researchers applied the Comet system at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) to identify four lead-free candidates for a more efficient, more cost-effective alternative to the silicon used in solar panels – and won the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in Energy along the way. “This is a great honor for me and my collaborator,” said Huan Tran, a professor of materials science and engineering at Georgia Tech.

Reaching for the stars

Others set their gazes even higher. At Australian National University, a research team used the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre’s SuperMUC-NG system to run the largest-ever magneto-hydrodynamic simulation, which helped to explain the role of galactic turbulence in the birthing of stars and earned the team the Readers’ Choice Award for Top HPC-Enabled Scientific Achievement

An NCSA-led team looked at the other end of stars’ life cycles, winning the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in Physical Sciences by using Bridges at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and Stampede2 at the Texas Advanced Computing Center to identify a constant that will help produce fast, accurate simulations of neutron star mergers. “I am very pleased to see that this award recognizes our recent accomplishments,” said Eliu Huerta. “We certainly look forward to continuing working with [collaborator] Shawn Brown and his team accelerating the convergence of AI and HPC for physics and other disciplines.”

Cloud GPU instances over time during the experiment. Image courtesy of Igor Sfiligoi, lead scientific software developer and research at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC).

Finally, researchers from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory worked with SDSC and the Open Science Grid to simultaneously commandeer 51,000 cloud GPUs across several cloud providers for a record-breaking “cloud burst.” The target: analysis of dense data from thousands of sensors buried thousands of meters beneath the Antarctic ice, all aiming to collect signs of neutrinos – mysterious particles produced by nuclear reactions, such as those that continuously occur in stars. The impressive stunt won the team an Editors’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in the Cloud.

Learn more

To learn more about the winners of this year’s HPCwire Readers’ and Editors’ Choice awards, check out the awards presentations and acceptance videos here. Even more science-oriented awardees are highlighted in the feature on COVID-19-centric award-winners

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