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Opinion: A Rich Port for Puerto Rican Science

Stefano Leonardi (left of image in white shirt) with students. Image courtesy TeraGrid.

Puerto Rico literally means "Rich Port."

Recently, this island was especially rich in computing education, when TeraGrid welcomed more than 50 students, faculty, and staff from Puerto Rican universities to its two, six-hour HPC workshops. The first session was held in San Juan near the Rio Piedras campus, and the second on the Mayaguez campus 100 miles west.

"Our goal was to connect more faculty and students with free resources and services available through TeraGrid and other cyberinfrastructure providers," said Scott Lathrop, TeraGrid director of education, outreach, and training.

Both workshops included an introduction to computational thinking, an overview of TeraGrid, and a step-by-step guide about how to request the organization's supercomputing resources and submit a job on its portal interface. Two-week guest accounts were also issued on Steele and Pople supercomputers, located at Purdue University and Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center respectively; these accounts are intended to allow students to practice following the workshop.

There are now six Puerto Rican researchers with active TeraGrid allocations, and that number is likely to grow.

"At the workshops, we met many more who would like to use HPC resources in the classroom," said Lathrop, who is based at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

One veteran user on the island is Stefano Leonardi, of the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez. "My wife and I moved here about two years ago because we felt it is as close to paradise as one can get," he said.

Leonardi's research into fluid dynamics explores how surface roughness affects drag and transport phenomena on turbine blades in aeronautical engines. His current work, Direct Numerical Simulation of turbulent flow in urban canopies, uses allocations on a range of Texas-based, TACC TeraGrid computer clusters, such as Ranger, Lonestar, Spur and Longhorn.

Teaching takes teamwork

Assembling the expertise to teach the workshops brought researchers hailing from computing centers across the US, including:

  • Pittsburgh Supercomputer Center
  • San Diego Supercomputing Center
  • National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Illinois
  • Shodor Inc. in North Carolina

Leonardi's jobs require huge calculations and generate vast amounts of data - about 10-15 terabytes. It would take too long to transfer a database that large from Puerto Rico to another location, so he uses visualization and data analysis resources from Longhorn, while simulations of events are remotely produced and stored locally in Austin, Texas on TACC's Ranch.

"With our in-house cluster, I often have to spend time changing broken disks or RAM. With TeraGrid, I can rely on specialists who keep their cluster running, so I can focus on my research," said Leonardi.

Benjamin Cruz Perez, a graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez and one of Leonardi's apprentices, used these same resources to complete his master's thesis, without which he thinks he would not have been able to obtain results in time. "I'm now comfortable using the techniques I've learned and applying them to HPC. I look forward to participating in multidisciplinary collaborations in the future," he said.

The TACC resources are just one of many TeraGrid resources Puerto Rican researchers are using to do their research; others have used resources at NCSA, PSC, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, and the National Institute for Computational Science at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

One week after the workshop, participant Edusmildo Orozco, an assistant computer science professor at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, requested an allocation of 200,000 service units and 12 hours of advanced user support. "My students will have hands-on experience with one of the largest systems. More importantly, I have access to 12 hours of advanced user support to help me get started," he added.

Students on the Rio Piedras campus. Image courtesy TeraGrid.

There are many people who live and work in U.S. states and regions with limited access to local HPC resources. The NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) includes jurisdictions that receive less research funds from the NSF. The goal of the program is to build research and education capacity and increase the competitiveness of the EPSCoR jurisdictions.

"We hope that researchers and educators from EPSCoR regions will leverage TeraGrid's free resources to overcome the last-mile barriers to entry," said John Towns, forum chair of the organization. "Our commitment to serving researchers, students, and educators like Leonardi, Perez, and Orozco, continues as we transition to the next generation of NSF-supported cyberinfrastructure in the coming months."

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