Team of Purdue, Northeastern students to compete at International Supercomputing Conference

  • June 15, 2017
  • Science Highlights

For the members of Purdue’s student supercomputing team, parallel programming and administering high-performance computing systems aren’t just concepts they’ve learned about in class – they’re techniques the students have put into practice building their own supercomputer.

“I wanted to learn more about programming and managing large-scale systems,” says Brandon Stewart, a junior in computer science from Chicago and one of six students on a joint Purdue and Northeastern University student supercomputing team. “The ISC team gave me a place to fulfill that passion and has given me the knowledge and tools to pursue that.”

The team will compete in the Student Cluster Competition at the upcoming ISC17 supercomputing conference in Frankfurt, Germany, June 18-22. Besides Stewart, the Purdue students are Austyn Cousins, a sophomore in computer engineering from Cleveland, and Austin Horning, a senior double-majoring in electrical engineering and computer science from Livermore, California. ITaP Research Computing staff members Lev Gorenstein and Chuck Schwarz serve as the team’s advisors, along with David Kaeli, a professor at Northeastern. The Northeastern team members are Carter McCardwell, Spencer Hance and Zachary Marcus.

At ISC17, the Purdue-Northeastern team will compete against nine teams from countries in Africa, Asia and Europe, as well as two other teams from the United States. ITaP and Matrix Integration are sponsoring the team.

The students will be evaluated on how efficiently and accurately they can run certain scientific applications on their supercomputer. The goal is to get as much science done as possible while staying under the given power budget of 3,000 Watts.

The applications the students run are used by real scientists and span a variety of fields, including chemistry, biology, meteorology and machine learning. Before the competition, the team works to fine-tune each application to make sure it runs well on their supercomputer.

Stewart and Cousins are veterans of the competition, having been members of a combined Purdue-University of Colorado team at last year’s ISC. While they had a great experience and enjoyed meeting teams from around the world, they also took away valuable lessons about how to improve. According to Stewart, as a result of their experience last year, they’ve done more preparation with certain applications and chosen hardware that is better optimized for the applications they will be running.

Horning will be participating for the first time this year. He joined the team “because someone told me there was a group of students with unfettered access to extremely powerful supercomputers that traveled to remote competitions and that seemed far too exciting to pass up.” He says it’s been a rewarding experience and he’s enjoyed having the opportunity to educate himself with resources he wouldn’t have otherwise had access to.

All the students agree that participating in the team has complemented their Purdue coursework and will be helpful to their future career plans. “It provides a more practical side of computer science to go along with the theoretical side,” says Stewart.

“The programming classes I’ve taken so far as a computer engineer have discussed some principles of parallel computing, and the hands-on experience of being on the team has allowed me to better understand and apply that material,” adds Cousins.

Originally posted: June 15, 2017 10:15am EDT