The National Institute for Computational Sciences

Fostering Future Scientists

Summer Computational Science Experience for Undergraduates Begins

By Scott Gibson

A 10-week summer project designed to provide promising undergraduate students experience in the research applications of computational science — and, in the process, get them energized and encouraged about furthering their educations — is now underway at the Joint Institute for Computational Sciences (JICS).

Students arrived on the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville, campus on June 3 to participate in the inaugural Computational Science for Undergraduate Research Experiences (CSURE) project, which runs a total of three summers, with different students each time.

JICS established CSURE under the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, which supports active research participation by undergraduate students in any of the areas of research funded by NSF. Principal investigators for CSURE are JICS Deputy Director Greg Peterson and Kwai Wong, JICS computational scientist.

Through CSURE, students are exploring the emergent computational models and techniques proven to work in a number of data- and compute-intensive applications. For their assignments, they will use supercomputers managed by the National Institute for Computational Sciences for NSF and located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Students competed to be selected for the project by submitting applications containing information about their academic performance and an essay in which they described why they wanted to be a part of CSURE.

The take-away from CSURE will be not only a synergistic set of knowledge and skills to begin using computational methods but also personal growth by way of social and cultural enrichment. The project is composed of 10 students from the U.S., with an added international element: four students from Hong Kong who are funded by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which has a strong emphasis on research and is considered to be one of Hong Kong's top universities. CSURE students have the opportunity to become well acquainted with one another, because most of them will live in the same off-campus apartment complex for the duration of the project.

In the first two weeks of CSURE, the students have settled into their housing, been paired in project teams, met their respective mentors and received an intensive introduction to the supercomputing environment and the computational methods and tools in the focus areas selected for the summer: biology, bioinformatics, materials, chemistry, emergent computer systems, biomedical engineering (human heart modeling and computational fluid dynamics), climate science and weather forecasting. They've also toured the computing facilities at ORNL, including the supercomputer machine room.

Initial Impressions from Some of the Participants

A discussion with some of the CSURE students about their impressions of the project so far reveals that they see it as a unique opportunity to develop or enhance programming skills and learn how supercomputing can be used to solve real-world scientific problems.

Tony Cheung and Kevin Zhao, both mathematics students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, say they intend to use what they learn to solve Monte Carlo simulations and are grateful for the opportunity to gain the research experience. "I want to apply the theoretical to the real world," Cheung says.

Nina Qian, a rising senior majoring in physics and minoring in computer science, expresses a hope that one outcome of CSURE for her will be the knowledge needed to solve a challenging matrix in her studies back in Hong Kong. Qian says she looks forward to learning the C and C++ languages and finding out about parallelization on supercomputers.

Like Qian, fellow Chinese University of Hong Kong student Ben Chan comments that he intends to do matrix work with his newly developed computational skills acquired this summer.

James Herndon, who is working on a degree in chemistry at New Mexico State University, describes CSURE as an opportunity to get a "crash course in programming" in a learning environment that's "not too stressful."

CSURE participant Kenneth McKanders from Morehouse College says an in-depth tutorial on LINUX during the project has rapidly enhanced his knowledge: "I don't think I've ever learned anything that fast." And he adds that he views this project as "great for learning supercomputers; a unique opportunity."

Angela Pelle, a UT Knoxville student majoring in civil engineering, is participating in CSURE to enhance her research experience and see real-world applications, particularly in climate sciences. She says that this project has already "solidified" her decision to go on to graduate school. She's been working a job that's entailed a lot of time in a cubicle, and she says she's enjoying the opportunity to get out and do research, and work with other women, something that she's not been able to do much in her field so far.

Next Activities

Week three of the project will consist of in-depth training in parallel programming languages, emergent platforms, general numerical library, building a PC cluster and basic networking, visualization and other applications topics, and a poster presentation and report outline. Also scheduled for the week is a graduate school panel talk by TN-SCORE (Tennessee Solar Conversion and Storage using Outreach, Research and Education), Tennessee’s first NSF RII Track 1 Research Infrastructure award.

Schools Represented at CSURE This Summer

  • Austin Peay State University
  • Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Arizona
  • Georgia Tech
  • Henderson State University, Arkansas
  • Morehouse College, Atlanta
  • New Mexico State University
  • Texas Southern University
  • University of Alabama
  • University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Article posting date: 17 June 2013

About JICS: The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences was established by the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to advance scientific discovery and state-of-the-art engineering, and to further knowledge of computational modeling and simulation. JICS realizes it vision by taking full advantage of petascale-and-beyond computers housed at ORNL and by educating a new generation of scientists and engineers well-versed in the application of computational modeling and simulation for solving the most challenging scientific and engineering problems.

About NICS: The National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS) operates the University of Tennessee supercomputing center, funded in part by the National Science Foundation. NICS is a major partner in NSF’s Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment, known as XSEDE. The Remote Data Analysis and Visualization Center (RDAV) is a part of NICS.