This Year’s HPCwire Awards Celebrated Science and the Humans Behind It

By Oliver Peckham

December 17, 2021

2021 marked the 18th annual HPCwire Readers’ and Editors’ Choice Awards. Coming off a tumultuous 2020, this year marked something of a return to normalcy: many supercomputing centers that had backburnered their day-to-days in 2020 to crunch Covid projects returned to normal work in 2021, and the semblance of normalcy achieved in the last year even allowed HPCwire to congratulate many of the award-winners in-person at the hybrid SC21 conference.

On the other hand, this resurgent era of HPC has taken on a newfound urgency as it aids in the establishment of our new – and hopefully, improved – normal. From diversity to sustainability to the life sciences, HPCwire recognized and celebrated these efforts through its 2021 Readers’ and Editor’s Choice Awards.

A stronger, cleaner world

During the pandemic, the world had a taste – ever so briefly – of a cleaner planet as transportation networks shut down and innumerable people switched from commutes to work-from-home. A number of HPC practitioners took the lead in actualizing a more permanently sustainable future. Wind energy leader Vestas won the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in Energy for its use of Microsoft Azure AI and HPC capabilities to develop intelligent wind farm management software that dynamically pivots turbines to mitigate the effects of their wakes on downstream turbines, increasing efficiency.

Looking even further into the future, a multinational collaboration of 50 researchers spanning 20 institutes, for example, leveraged over 67 million core hours on the Marconi and MareNostrum 4 supercomputers to run magnetohydrodynamic simulations to better understand the dynamics of future fusion reactor operation, earning them the Readers’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in Energy.

Others looked inward, instead. The University of Florida took home the Readers’ Choice Award for Best Sustainability Innovation in HPC for its highly efficient (29.52 gigaflops per watt) and powerful (17.2 Linpack petaflops) HiPerGator AI system, which ranked highly on both the Green500 and Top500 lists, showing a clear path toward scaled-up and efficient systems.

The new LUMI datacenter.

Meanwhile, the team behind the forthcoming LUMI supercomputer in Finland won the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Sustainability Innovation in HPC for its magnificently efficient datacenter, which will power a ten-megawatt supercomputer with 100 percent carbon-free energy while using its waste heat to warm the neighboring town. “In the world of ever-accelerating climate change, we as the science community need to provide insight and innovation to tackle the crisis,” Pekka Manninen, director of the LUMI leadership computing facility at CSC, told HPCwire. “We thank HPCwire for this recognition and challenge our sister centers to follow this path.”

Of course, despite our best efforts, sometimes nature will throw a wrench into our plans – and HPC is making sure we’re ready. Two cutting-edge projects won awards for natural disaster modeling and mitigation this year. One team of industry, government and academic experts won the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in Response to Societal Plights by working with the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) to create storm simulations for the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Then, the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) won the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in Physical Sciences by using the Texas Advanced Computing Center’s (TACC) Frontera supercomputer to produce dynamic models of earthquake processes to improve the reliability of earthquake modeling.

Sustaining life

Protecting the planet is important; protecting the people who inhabit it is, too. A team of clinicians working with the University of Birmingham’s School of Chemical Engineering won the Readers’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in Life Sciences for a model of an operating theater that enables tracking of the air that escapes surgical gowns – a vector for infection of patients undergoing operations.

At the genomic level, meanwhile, the Joint Genome Institute (under the Department of Energy) and the ExaBiome Project (under Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) took home the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in Life Sciences for the MetaHipMer end-to-end genome assembler, which was made possible by the UPC++, Summit and Cori supercomputers.

Of course, the pandemic is far from done with the world – and so, HPC was far from done with the pandemic. While the volume of supercomputing Covid research may have decreased in 2021, world-shaping research on the pandemic has still been taking place on supercomputers throughout the year. Some of HPCwire’s awards this year reflected that work: the Readers’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in the Cloud, for instance, went to the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) for a project that leveraged AWS, PostgreSQL and open-source tools to develop a system for students to order tests and report results as they return to in-person learning.

Meanwhile, as variants increasingly represent the biggest threat to pandemic recovery, the Readers’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in Response to Societal Plights went to the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium – its second consecutive award win – for its monumental effort to sequence and aggregate over 675,000 coronavirus genomes from around the world. This work, powered by DDN, Dell, Lenovo and others, represented a dramatic expansion of the consortium’s work in 2020, and a key element in the fight to identify and combat Covid variants.

Beyond Earth

The collapsed radio telescope. Image courtesy of Arecibo Observatory.

At the other end of the spectrum, two award-winning projects enabled research that looked far past human affairs. First, a massive coalition of partners banded together on short notice to rescue petabytes of irreplaceable observation data in the wake of the collapse of the telescope at the Arecibo Observatory, earning the team the Readers’ Choice Award for Best HPC Collaboration.

Second, the Readers’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in Physical Sciences went to a similarly broad coalition of institutions that developed a set of AI models to classify star clusters observed by the Hubble Space Telescope using AWS and supercomputers like Bridges-2 at PSC and HAL at the NCSA. The resulting models are the first shown to outperform humans in the classification work.

Another winner paid tribute to this sort of cosmic research from its conception: the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) won both the Readers’ and Editors’ Choice Award for Top Supercomputing Achievement for its launch of the powerful and efficient Perlmutter supercomputer, which is named after the Nobel laureate who helped to discover the accelerating expansion of the universe. Perlmutter is already being used for more interstellar tasks, such as using AI to identify objects in data from the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI).

The human element

Even as supercomputers grow more advanced, humans underpin the way we deploy and apply our systems, choosing how we use the world’s most powerful computers. To that end, it’s important to have representation from a range of demographics in what is traditionally a somewhat homogeneous field. The Sustainable Research Pathways (SRP) program, run by the Sustainable Horizons Institute and Berkeley Lab, won the Readers’ Choice Award for Workforce Diversity & Inclusion Leadership with its work to engage a diverse community of students and faculty from underrepresented backgrounds through workshops and research support. The Editors’ Choice Award for Workforce Diversity & Inclusion Leadership, meanwhile, went to the NSF XSEDE EMPOWER program, which recruited a diverse group of around 200 student apprentices and interns to assist with research supported by XSEDE systems.

HPC also needs strong overall leadership, which was available in spades in 2021. HPCwire awarded three total awards for Outstanding Leadership in HPC this year. One Readers’ Choice Award was awarded to Lisa Su, CEO of AMD, for her masterful orchestration of AMD’s regained leadership position. “At AMD, we live to push the envelope of high-performance computing, and we’re so excited about the opportunities ahead of us as we enter the exascale era,” she told HPCwire. “We’re focused on helping researchers and scientists around the world accelerate the pace of scientific discovery to help solve the biggest challenges we’re all facing.”

Two Editors’ Choice Award were awarded: one to HPC stalwart Buddy Bland, who retired this year after 40 years with the Department of Energy, through which he delivered the Jaguar, Titan and Summit systems; and a second award to Valerie Taylor, division director and distinguished fellow at Argonne National Laboratory and co-author of more than 100 papers in the field of HPC.

Learn more

These are just a few of the remarkable winners of the 2021 HPCwire Readers’ and Editors’ Choice Awards. To learn more about all of the winners, visit the landing page here.

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