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New version of ITaP's Scholar cluster powers meteorology classes

  • Science Highlights

Learning scientific computing for the first time can be challenging enough, without the additional hurdles of installing and configuring the necessary software. Thanks to the updated, interactive features of Purdue’s Scholar cluster, those hurdles have been removed for Mike Baldwin’s meteorology students.

Baldwin, an associate professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, used the new version of Scholar last fall when he taught EAPS 431000, the first in a series of synoptic weather analysis and forecasting labs for undergraduate majors.

That class gives students an overview of how to use the Python programming language and its plotting libraries to create vertical profiles of weather conditions such as temperature, humidity and wind. Students started out generating simple plots based on data collected by others and eventually worked their way up to importing and analyzing data from a weather balloon the class launched.

Because the new version of Scholar, a cluster supercomputer ITaP makes available for classroom use, supports the JupyterHub Python platform, Baldwin’s students didn’t have to go to the trouble of installing a Python development environment and the necessary modules on their personal machines.

“It’s just very easy to have that environment already built and ready to use,” says Baldwin. “And also having it run through the browser, it’s a very easy environment for students to use and also to teach from.”

The new version of Scholar also supports ThinLinc, software that allows a user to connect to the cluster remotely and run graphical applications from their own computer. Baldwin has taken advantage of that feature in courses he teaches that use a weather forecasting platform developed at the National Weather Service. In the past, his students had to go to one of Purdue’s Linux labs to use that software, but with the new version of Scholar, they can log on from anywhere to do their homework.

It’s been a positive change for the students, says Baldwin, who notes that the typical computing frustrations that his students experienced in past years are no longer present. In fact, it went so well that Baldwin is planning to use Scholar in the same way when he teaches EAPS 34100 again in the fall.

“For students that are just getting comfortable with doing scientific computing, you want to try to remove as many of those frustrations as you can and just get to learning about the coding or using it as a tool,” he says.

Baldwin’s integration of Scholar into his classes is part of an ongoing effort by the Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences Department to weave more high-performance computing into the curriculum and introduce it to students earlier in their academic careers.

“I’m trying to let everyone know about these features that are available, and I think it’s going to get adopted more and more as everyone learns about these benefits,” says Baldwin. “It’s really an excellent resource.”

Scholar is available to any faculty member at Purdue who is interested in teaching subjects that could benefit from scientific computing. ITaP now has an automated add-a-class page for Scholar where an interested instructor can quickly sign up a class without needing to submit a request and wait for a response.

The interactive version of Scholar was built using funding obtained by Mark Daniel Ward, an associate professor of statistics, from Dennis Minchella, the College of Science’s associate dean for undergraduate education, under an instructional technology grant.

To learn more about Scholar, contact Stephen Harrell, ITaP Research Computing scientific applications analyst, at

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