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Student programs shine at IEEE Cluster 2013

From left to right: Students Wrenn and Ademiluyi and professor Vojislav Stojkovic from Morgan State University in Maryland, US. Image courtesy Amber Harmon.

More than 225 computer scientists gathered at this year's IEEE International Conference on Cluster Computing (Cluster 2013), hosted by Indiana University's Pervasive Technology Institute in Indianapolis, US. David Keyes, professor of applied mathematics and computer science at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, delivered this year's keynote.

"Computing at scale," Keyes says, "is as essential to 21st century research universities as breathing is to any person." Surprisingly, it's rare among a new crop of research universities. Keyes is the founding dean of the division of Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Sciences & Engineering at KAUST, a private international university established in 2009 to focus on graduate education and research.

KAUST is designed to address four sustainability pillars - water, food, environment, and energy. These issues belong not only to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but also to all of humanity, and KAUST is addressing them with technology and computational science. Keyes recognized that the future of his university and others around the world would be dependent, in large part, upon the work and progress made by the computer scientists and students attending Cluster 2013.

From left to right: Stewart, Keyes, Walker, and Henry Tufo, professor of computer science at the University of Colorado, US, and computer science section head at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Image courtesy Amber Harmon.

Jessie Walker, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), US, has a deep understanding of what it means to bring students into the computer and computational science fold. "Since 2009, I have focused on expanding the availability and knowledge of national and local cyberinfrastructure (CI) resources at our undergraduate campus."

"We've made CI the focus of a core class in each domain. For example, all biology students must take bioinformatics to graduate; all business students must take a core CI class including big data," says Walker. UAPB is now drawing students interested in computer and computational science from Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, and South Africa.

"To affect a fundamental culture shift as a faculty member, over such a short timeframe, is unheard of," says Henry Neeman, director of the OU Supercomputing Center for Education and Research at the University of Oklahoma, US. "It is a huge accomplishment for Walker and Pine Bluff." In October, Walker and the university community are planning to celebrate the launch of Apollo, UAPB's first supercomputer.

Jay Boisseau, director of the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) in Austin, US, keeps audience members and fellow panelists engaged during Clouds and clusters: The Wal-Mart effect. Image courtesy Amber Harmon.

Recognizing the computational challenges of the 21st century and beyond, conference chairs put together a strong student program, funded in part by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Pervasive Technology Institute. Nearly one third of conference attendees were students. Scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students supported attendees from more than 18 universities spanning the globe, with participants coming from as far as China and South Africa.

"With support from the NSF, we were able to offer a weeklong program for students that included tours, tutorials, and time with professional mentors to get academic and career advice," says Eric Wernert, student program co-chair and director of visualization and analytics at Indiana University's Pervasive Technology Institute. Special events and facility tours of the Informatics & Communications Technology Complex on the Indiana University Purdue University campus kicked off the mentorship program.

Margaret Dolinsky and Roger Hangarter presented their art and science collaboration displaying images created in live leaves by manipulating chloroplast movements. Participants were able to see and learn how chloroplasts in living leaves can be coaxed to act as pixels that move in response to light and render high-resolution data-intensive images.
Dolinsky is an associate professor of fine arts and Roger Hangarter is a professor of biology at Indiana University, Bloomington, US. Dolinsky creates interactive art for high-speed networks and collaborative art experiences for the CAVE Automated Virtual Environment. Image courtesy Amber Harmon.

Stereoscopic visualization of 'nuclear pasta' - an HPC simulation of neutron-dense matter. Simulation by Charles Horowitz and Don Berry; visualization by David Reagan. In conjunction with the Cluster 2013 poster session, the visualization showcase presented student work in eye-catching detail. Cluster technology generated all results. Image courtesy Amber Harmon.

"The opportunities to speak with faculty and scientists from various universities have been very insightful," says Aderogba Ademiluyi, a would-be graduate student from Morgan State University (MSU) in Maryland, US, who is preparing for the future. "I can speak directly with faculty and scientists about the programs at Clemson for example, or Colorado. It's encouraging."

"The technical GPU Computing with CUDA & C/C++ workshop was completely hands-on, and the instructor was phenomenal; right out of the gate I was learning and building on what I already knew," says James Wrenn, a student at MSU. Vojislav Stojkovic, professor of computer science at MSU, accompanied the students to the conference. "Events like this are what students need to be able to see and learn the technology, to ask questions, to be included and mentored. It is a tremendous opportunity for our students."

For students and educators at schools and colleges across the state, Cluster 2013 also provided opportunities to build powerful, ready-to-run LittleFe clusters and work with the Bootable Cluster CD (BCCD), both developed at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. A workshop focused on use cases for LittleFe in education, outreach, and training, and on developing curriculum modules for the LittleFe/BCCD platform.

"We put a real focus on student involvement and engagement, to complement the traditional technical focus of this conference," Wernert says. "This provided the student attendees with a more complete picture of the range of applications, technologies, and roles they will encounter as emerging computing professionals. Our society needs more students who are interested in and well trained in computational and computer science."

Graduate and undergraduate students alike participated in more than 40 technical workshops and presentations, along with plenary talks, the visualization showcase, and paper submissions. "The judges decided we needed two best paper awards - one for the Technical papers category, and one for the Education, Outreach, and Training (EOT) papers category," says Craig Stewart, general chair and executive director of the Pervasive Technology Institute. "It shows how much people liked the EOT track we added to the conference this year." To learn more about individual award recipients, visit the iSGTW announcement.

Jay Boisseau, director of the Texas Advanced Computing Center at The University of Texas at Austin, US, highlighted the many science outcomes already resulting from the new Stampede supercomputer. In closing, Thomas Sterling of Indiana University gave a keynote on clusters and exascale computing - which turned into a tour de force of supercomputing history and incisive comments about future challenges in clusters and sciences-based cluster use.

For revelations to emerge and sustain the world, scientists - computer or computational - must breathe new life into each discovery and into science itself. It remains to be seen if scientists will live by cluster computing alone, but one thing is clear: With it, science will breathe a lot easier.

IEEE International Conference on Cluster Computing (Cluster 2014) will take place in Madrid, Spain.

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