The National Institute for Computational Sciences

NICS Extends Helping Hand to Regional Universities

TSU, FAMU get expert advice on HPC

by Gregory Scott Jones


Faculty and students from Tennessee State attended an HPC and bioinformatics workshop held on October 13 at NICS.

The National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS) is venturing far outside its home in the hills of East Tennessee.

Thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), NICS, which is managed by the University of Tennessee (UT) and located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), recently sent several staff specialists on two trips to educate the next generation of computational scientists.

The first trip took place on July 27 at Tennessee State University (TSU), a historically black college in Nashville. NICS staff members Bhanu Rekepalli, Jacek Jakowski, and Jim Ferguson lectured on a variety of topics to five TSU professors and 25 students. Josh Francois, who works with another Tennessee EPSCoR project known as TN-SCORE, arranged the workshop. Jakowski presented on computational materials, Rekepalli discussed bioinformatics, and Ferguson highlighted the new XSEDE program and education and outreach strategy at NICS. Faculty and students from Tennessee State also attended an HPC and bioinformatics workshop held on October 13 at NICS.

“It went quite well,” said Rekepalli, who recently accepted an invitation from Dr. Ali Sekmen, head of computer science at TSU, to be an external advisory board member for the university to develop an NSF-funded bioinformatics program. Rekepalli, along with Dr. Barry Bruce of UT, is currently guiding two faculty members and three students from TSU and two graduate students from the UT on this collaborative project.

Added Sekmen: “We have strong expertise in high-performance computing, parallel processing, distributed computing, and cloud computing. However, we are lacking the domain knowledge in biology and related areas. Our discussion with Dr. Bhanu Rekepalli and Jim Ferguson was very encouraging as they offered collaboration and training for our faculty and students to get us started in developing a bioinformatics program at TSU. We are interested in collaborating and taking advantage of the world-class bioinformatics expertise at NICS and ORNL."

The second educational event took place on September 13 at Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee. NICS staff members Yashema Mack and Amy Szczepanski lectured on OpenMP, an important application programming interface in high-performance computing, and Jim Ferguson talked about the NSF’s new XSEDE program and discussed educational accounts on NICS’s premier supercomputer, a Cray XT5 known as Kraken.

"The purpose of the trip to FAMU's Computer and Information Sciences Department was to provide an introduction to and engage students’ interests in the field of high-performance computing. Part of the intent was to ignite a flame that will encourage the department to add HPC to the curriculum,” said Mack. “The other part was to demonstrate to the students and professors how they can utilize our systems for their research by providing a beginners’ tutorial on OpenMP. The trip was a success and everyone was immensely thankful to us for the visit. The students are extremely intelligent and can be valuable assets to the field of high-performance computing."

Judging from the success of these visits, NICS will surely continue to reach out to neighbors and continue to educate the next generation of computational scientists. And given the rate at which high-performance computing is growing, it couldn’t come soon enough.

About NICS: The National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS) is a joint effort of the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory that is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Located on the campus of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, NICS is a major partner in NSF’s Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE).