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NASA mentors students to achieve high performance in supercomputing competition
by Staff Writers
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Apr 29, 2022

NASA-mentored students from minority-serving institutions took part in a supercomputing competition using the Pleiades supercomputer, located at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. Pleiades is in the top 100 of fastest supercomputers in the world.

Talented students from communities around the U.S. recently gained hands-on experience in high-performance computing, NASA style. With help from experts in the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) division at the agency's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, the students took part in a supercomputing competition. Twelve teams of undergraduate and graduate students from six Historically Black Colleges and Universities and four Hispanic Serving Institutions participated in the second annual Winter Classic Invitational Student Cluster Competition.

The competition is a win-win for the students and for NASA: it provides students with firsthand practice in developing skills to prepare them for positions in high-performance computing (HPC) and gives NASA an opportunity to attract the next generation of HPC professionals.

NASA was one of four mentor institutions who took turns hosting the students virtually. During the week-long NASA round of the competition, which ended on March 12, the teams were guided by NASA computing pros who specialize in optimizing codes to make them run more effectively and quickly. The students ran their computational jobs on Ames' powerful Pleiades supercomputer, comprised of a cluster of computer nodes connected together to work as a single system. Pleiades is used by scientists and engineers around the world to help solve some of NASA's most challenging problems in the shortest time possible.

"The students worked really hard throughout the week and all of our preparation work paid off as we watched them inch toward achieving their best performance," said Sherry Chang, an applications expert in the NAS division at Ames and one of the mentors who guided students through their competition tasks. "This event turned out to be quite rewarding, not just for the students but also for us mentors."

In the months leading up to the workshop, the NAS division's user support and applications experts got the students set up with everything needed to run their jobs on Pleiades, created training material, and held Q&A sessions to help them get started. The mentors offered advice and encouragement throughout the competition week, all of which paid off for the students.

"Thank you, everyone, for all the mentoring and help as we further our understanding in high-performance computing applications. I feel like I know a lot more now than prior to the start of this event," said Alberto De La Rosa, a student participant from the University of Texas El Paso.

The 12 teams worked on a problem related to evaluating the performance of parallel supercomputers that run simulations for designing safe and efficient airplanes and spacecraft. Using modern cluster computers such as Pleiades, a problem of interest can be divided into smaller tasks. These tasks - such as for simulating airflow over a new aircraft design - can be simulated separately but simultaneously across the supercomputing cluster, allowing the computations to be done much faster.

"We were very pleased when NASA signed up as mentors for the 2022 Winter Classic, and after observing the training that NASA conducted with the students and seeing how much the students learned from this module of the competition, we were ecstatic," said Dan Olds, chief research officer with Intersect360 Research, who organized the event. "The mentoring that NASA provided, along with access to a real-world supercomputer like Pleiades, really got the students thinking about building careers in HPC."

After multiple rounds of competition, one member of each team was awarded the Brueckner Award Scholarship by Intersect360 Research. Plus, the winning team - from Tennessee State University, this year - received an HPC Jump Start Award of $10,000 to help fund the school's HPC labs and resources.

This is the first year NASA is participating in the competition, supporting the collaboration with minority-serving institutions. The NAS Division staff represented NASA as one of four mentor HPC data centers supporting the competition, along with Oakridge National Laboratory, Amazon AWS, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

"It was a gratifying experience to mentor these highly motivated students and we hope to attract some of them to come and work with us," said Piyush Mehrotra, chief of the NAS division at Ames. "We're looking forward to being part of the competition again next year."

The 12 NASA-mentored teams represented these six Historically Black Colleges and Universities and four Hispanic Serving Institutions:

+ California State University Fullerton
+ California State University Channel Islands (2 teams)
+ Fayetteville State University
+ Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
+ Morehouse College
+ Prairie View A and M University
+ Spelman College
+ Tennessee State University
+ Texas Tech University (2 teams)
+ University of Texas El Paso
Related Links
Ames Research Center
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

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