CS Students Compete in International Supercomputing Challenge


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University aerospace engineering major Trevor Johnson wants a career designing aircraft, and that requires knowing how to use a supercomputer to project the effects of a design on key performance factors such as the way air flows over an aircraft's body and wings.

The senior from Orion, Ill., has used high-performance computing in his classwork at Purdue, but he's getting a different perspective on it this summer - as a member of a student supercomputing team preparing for an international competition in Germany starting June 16.

"The team has advanced my goals by allowing me a greater insight into how these tasks run and how to improve the job setup and software install,” Johnson says. "It is a great learning opportunity that I think will help me work more effectively on computationally intensive tasks in the future.”

This is the first time a Purdue team is in the student competition at the ISC supercomputing conference in Europe, one of the supercomputing industry's two major annual gatherings. Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP), HP, Intel and Matrix Integration are sponsoring Purdue's team.

The Purdue team is one of nine in the competition, which takes place in Leipzig, Germany. The University of Colorado is the only other team from the United States. The other teams are from institutions in China and Germany - both countries with two teams - Costa Rica, Scotland and South Africa.

The Purdue team includes Johnson; Spencer Julian, a senior in computer engineering from Anderson, Ind.; Kurt Kroeger, a sophomore in computer science from Nashville, Tenn.; Ethan Madden, a junior in computer and information technology from Newburgh, Ind.; Nick Molo, a junior in computer engineering from Joliet, Ill.; and Tyler Reid, a senior in computer science from Zionsville, Ind. ITaP staff members Stephen Harrell and Andy Howard advise the team, and professor Michael Baldwin, a Purdue atmospheric scientist, is faculty adviser.

The students, all of whom must be undergraduates, assemble their own mini-supercomputer and configure it to run a set battery of scientific software to process real science data provided by the competition organizers. The teams don't see the data until the competition kicks off, and the goal is to crunch as much of it as possible between Monday evening and Wednesday afternoon.

The known applications include software for subatomic physics, interactions among biochemical molecules and weather prediction. But the international competition also features two "secret” applications that the teams will be assigned upon arriving in Germany.

"This will test our abilities to quickly compile new applications as well as efficiently run them,” says Madden, who also was on the Purdue team for the U.S. student supercomputing competition in November. "I think that will make the international competition significantly more challenging.”

Purdue's student supercomputer is made up of new-generation HP and Intel hardware, so new that the team didn't have it until recently. So the students could start working with the known software titles Intel helped arrange time on Stampede at the Texas Advanced Computing Center in Austin, Texas, one of the largest supercomputers for open science research in the world and one of the newest

Funded by the National Science Foundation for use by researchers nationwide, Stampede uses state-of-the-art hardware similar to Purdue's student machine. The results the Purdue team has been able to get from the Texas supercomputer could bode well for the team's chances in Germany.

"Stampede is a really good analog to what our cluster will be, and we've liked what we have seen,” says Reid, who was on the last two Purdue teams for the U.S. student supercomputing competition.

The next supercomputer for use by Purdue researchers, which ITaP is building this summer, will include advanced hardware similar to Stampede and the student machine.