PSC Takes Lead in XSEDE Summer Research Experience Program
Young career seekers in the high performance computing (HPC) field often face a familiar problem. You can’t get the job without experience. But another hitch confronts would-be “super computors” (pun intended). If you want to write software for PCs or smartphones, you probably know what that kind of programmer does. But what does an HPC engineer, researcher or educator do? How does a student find out if HPC is for him or her?
The NSF XSEDE Summer Research Experience Program exists to help students solve both problems, says PSC’s Laura McGinnis, the program’s coordinator. It also prepares and sustains a larger, more diverse pool of undergraduate and graduate students to be future HPC professionals. “Because supercomputing is a niche, we’re providing a hands-on opportunity for students to experience HPC and be able to make an informed decision about their career track,” McGinnis says. “We provide real-world experience in computational science, particularly for underrepresented students.”
The Summer Research Experience Program includes training, internships, fellowships, mentoring and recognition activities. Participating students gain real-world research and development experience as well as encouragement and academic support in their pursuit of advanced degrees and digital services professional careers.
The program distinguishes itself from other internship programs by providing the participants the opportunity to expand their horizons with high performance computing challenges in all research fields. Working with XSEDE researchers and staff, students gain relevant high performance computing experience on real-world problems and the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to research, development and systems projects.
“It’s important that the projects be real and not just have the students come in and optimize ‘hello world’ on a thousand processors,” says McGinnis. The program also provides a small stipend and travel support for project orientation and attendance at the XSEDE14 conference in Atlanta, Ga.
PSC plays a central role in the Summer Research Experience Program, both by providing leadership and also by hosting many students in the program’s summer study component. Here are a few of these students and their stories.
Rockets are in Marjorie Ingle’s blood. The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) second-year master’s student literally learned rocketry on her grandfather’s knee.
“He was a research and development engineer at White Sands Missile Range,” she says. “He used to give me little models that I would put together. I ‘volunteered’ Barbie for the space program I don’t know how many times,” sending the doll roaring skyward on model rockets.
Ingle’s XSEDE project centered on a phenomenon common to rocket engines as well as high- temperature nuclear reactor cooling systems: understanding how fluids such as rocket fuel or liquid helium coolant behave when they pass through small apertures.
Ingle worked with Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center’s Anirban Jana on a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model of jets of liquid helium flowing through a reactor cooling system. This system is under study partly because liquid helium coolant is more durable than the water used in older reactor designs and so doesn’t need to be replaced as often, reducing the production of radioactive waste and making the reactor more ecologically friendly.
For Anthony Ruggiero, a junior at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, physics always seemed to be a gateway to higher things: find a higher potential, as it were.
“With physics, anything is possible,” he says. “I wanted to do something with my life that people have never done before; I figured physics would allow me to do that.”
Ironically, Ruggiero’s XSEDE project literally focused on potential: the potential energy of an electron in what’s known as the single-site Schrödinger equation.
In the equation named for him Schrödinger, one of quantum mechanics’ founders, created the quantum equivalent of classical conservation of energy—an object’s total energy is its potential energy plus its kinetic energy (the energy of its movement). In the strange quantum world, though, an electron doesn’t have a location per se. Its location is more of a smeared-out cloud of possibility.
Working with PSC’s Yang Wang and Roberto Gomez, Ruggiero worked on speeding up calculations based on Schrödinger’s equation via general-purpose graphics processing units— GPUs. Originally developed to help computers create smoother, more stable visual images, GPUs have proved extremely versatile even for calculations not related to images, such as those in Schrödinger’s equation.
Paula Romero has had some unique educational experiences. When she was 11, the second- year University of Indianapolis undergraduate’s family fled the political instability of Venezuela, where she was born, for the “old country”— her parents’ native Spain. There she entered a teaching system very unlike that of the U.S. “In Spain they focus on teaching theory,” she explains. “They try to keep what is math on one side and what is physics on the other side… relating both fields is mostly your job. There is a lot of sitting down at a desk and studying for hours.”
Conceptually, she says, such a parallelized education was great preparation for the mindset necessary for parallelizing code: pulling problems apart into chunks that can be attacked in parallel, speeding the calculation on computers with many parallel processors.
Under the guidance of PSC’s Yang Wang and Roberto Gomez, she worked with Shawn Coleman, a PhD student at the University of Arkansas, to optimize an x-ray crystallography diffraction algorithm for use in Intel MICs— many-integrated core coprocessors, which speed highly parallel calculations in the Texas Advanced Computing Center’s Stampede supercomputer.