Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bridging from the eXtreme to the campus and beyond at XSEDE’12

After the excitement of the Higgs announcement at CERN recently, this week I am reporting for International Science Grid This Week from the XSEDE’12 event in the Windy City, aka Chicago. Apparently the term doesn’t just refer to the fresh breezes emanating from Lake Michigan, but also to the Chicagoans’ ability to debate up a storm. No doubt the organisers of XSEDE will be hoping for a similar quantity of discussion at this week’s event. XSEDE Principal Investigator John Towns said, "This conference series has evolved into an important meeting focused on the needs of the community supported by XSEDE, and it will cover a breadth of scientific, technical, and social aspects of cyberinfrastructure."

Today is tutorial day, and this morning I heard about selecting and using XSEDE resources for maximum productivity from Kimberly Dillman, Research Programmer and Campus Champion. The Campus Champions network was one of the strongest human capital assets to emerge from the Teragrid project which preceded XSEDE, and I am looking forward to hearing more about how this network has developed during the first year. Students are also a noticeably strong presence at this event – there are several tutorials aimed at students running today, and a designated Student Day on Wednesday, when students and educators are encouraged to come along and get a taster of the work that's going on. High school, undergraduate and graduate students are also invited to demonstrate the value that computational science adds to scientific discovery at the poster session. Last year the demos at this session were particularly engaging. 

 iSGTW is a media partner for XSEDE this year, along with HPCwire and I’m looking forward to catching up with some of the speakers: Richard Tapia of Rice University and recipient of the US National Medal of Science, John Towns of XSEDE, Thomas Eikermann of European supercomputing network PRACE, James Gutowski of Dell and Gayatri Buragohain, Feminist Approach to Technology, among others. It’s shaping up to be a varied week, concluding with Emmy Award-winning former producer of "60 minutes" Steven Reiner, who will discuss why it's important for scientists and researchers to make sure the public understands who they are and what they do.

As far as Chicago is concerned, it’s my second visit and I’m rediscovering some of the sights as well as following the conference. The locals seem to have a rather wry sense of humour – the spot where Mrs O’Leary’s cow supposedly started the great Chicago fire of 1871 by kicking over a lantern is now occupied by the fire training school. In the aftermath of the devastating blaze, Queen Victoria took the populace’s plight to heart and sent thousands of volumes of books to replace the public libraries lost to the flames. The city dwellers were duly grateful – but politely decided not to mention that before 1871, there were no public libraries in the City of Chicago.

So the stock of publicly available knowledge and data might have been given a timely boost as the city was rebuilt post-fire (not to mention a marked increase in the number of public libraries), but with tracks on science, technology, software and education, outreach and training in store, XSEDE'12 will bring together a further healthy body of knowledge, bridging out from Chicago, to the scientific community both here and abroad.

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