Empowering the next generation of HPC leaders

AsianScientist (March 7, 2023) – In 2019, Dr. Piyawut Srichaikul traveled 9,673 km from his hometown of Bangkok to Barcelona, ​​​​where he joined researchers from around the world at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Summer School on High Performance Computing (HPC). The school, co-organized by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS), offered a full week of lectures and hands-on sessions with some of the biggest names in HPC.

At the event, Srichaikul had an idea. “Instead of flying people to the EU,” Srichaikul wondered, “what if we could bring such a school to ASEAN?” Srichaikul is co-chair of the ASEAN HPC Taskforce and is also a senior researcher at the NSTDA Supercomputer Center (ThaiSC) in Khlong Nueng, north of Bangkok.

It took a few years and the help of the Jakarta-based Enhanced Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument (E-READI), but this idea has now become a reality: the University of Kasetsart in Bangkok recently hosted the second EU-ASEAN HPC School – the first to be held in person.

The first edition of the event, held in Bangkok in 2021, took place entirely remotely given the health protocols in place at the time. But for the EU-ASEAN School 2022, a total of 60 students selected from a pool of 300 applications from all 10 ASEAN member states were able to attend the event in person. Running December 5-10, 2022, the school is one of a growing number of programs and activities in the region encouraging young scientists to learn more about HPC-enabled research.

Create valuable connections

Srichaikul explained that the EU-ASEAN HPC School has two goals. The first is to create a talent pipeline for the HPC industry.

“We want to nurture local talent and promote capacity building in ASEAN member states,” he told Supercomputing Asia in an interview. “We want students to learn and turn that learning into real benefits.”

The second, longer-term goal is to promote regional cooperation. “You can’t expect every nation to have the same technology,” Srichaikul said, explaining that while countries like Singapore and Thailand have nationwide HPCs, others are still working out roadmaps to do the same. “ASEAN countries have economic gaps, and so we have to ask ourselves: How can we make HPCs a regional resource so that our scientists can use this computing power?”

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dr Fabrizio Gagliardi, director of the EU-ASEAN HPC School, shares this view. “ASEAN is a bit like Europe,” Gagliardi emphasized in an interview with Supercomputing Asia. “For example, there are big differences between countries like Germany and Romania. Their economies are completely different, as is the case with Singapore and Vietnam. So HPC schools should help those who might be a little behind.”

These two goals are why Gagliardi and his team designed the school to not only hold sessions on the region’s most powerful HPC systems – like Singapore’s ASPIRE 2A and Thailand’s LANTA, apart from Japan’s Fugaku and Finland’s LUMI – the The program also included many opportunities for participants to network with each other and with the school’s valued guests.

Guests of honor at the EU-ASEAN HPC School 2022 included Satoshi Matsuoka, Director of the RIKEN Center for Computational Science; Anders Jensen, Managing Director of EuroHPC; Jack Dongarra, 2021 Turing Prize winner and author of The LINPACK Benchmark, which serves as the basis for the TOP500 list; and Supa Hannongbua, President of the Chemical Society of Thailand.

For his part, Gagliardi is no stranger to nurturing younger researchers and networks. As Senior Strategy Advisor at BSC-CNS, he has led several HPC summer schools in the EU and was part of the team that brought Srichaikul to Barcelona in 2019.

Now Srichaikul’s colleague in organizing the EU-ASEAN HPC School, Gagliardi shared that everything is heading towards developing the next generation of HPC scientists. “I think it’s part of every scientist’s mission. We work hard throughout our lives – which is relatively short – and acquire a level of knowledge that we don’t want to waste, and so we want to educate the younger generation. he said. “We want to make sure we have people behind us who are continuing the work.” The same applies to the guest speakers and lecturers who made the long journey to Bangkok as volunteers in 2022.

By connecting students with cutting-edge HPC technology, experienced experts and each other, the EU-ASEAN HPC School hopes to develop participants’ potential not only for their individual research projects but for the region in general.

dr Marieanne Leong, an atmospheric scientist who received the 2021 EU-ASEAN HPC School Best Student Award, agrees. “My hope is that there will be an open-source or shared HPC facility available in the ASEAN region,” she shared in an interview with Supercomputing Asia. “These facilities are expensive and not all countries or organizations can afford them.” With this shared HPC environment, Leong hopes to pool regional expertise to tackle big problems like climate change.

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“We have good people,” Srichaikul said confidently. “They know what they want to do. It’s just about giving them the opportunity [to achieve it].”

“The time is now and the opportunity is here”

For Gagliardi, there is no better time to promote HPC talent in ASEAN.

“It was always very exciting,” said Gagliardi. “But now there are so many transformations at the level of electronic components and how you put them together to tie memory hierarchies together. And then on the software side there are new ways to program all these big machines.”

With this in mind, he encourages young people to look into various HPC programs. “The time is now and the opportunity is here whether you are accepted into the EU-ASEAN HPC School or not.”

And he’s right: In addition to the school, there are webinars, grants and competitions for young scientists who want to learn more about HPC.

In 2022, for example, the National Supercomputing Center (NSCC) Singapore organized two competitions. The first was the APAC HPC-AI Competition 2022, for which the NSCC partnered with the HPC-AI Advisory Council and the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) Australia. Open to teams from across Asia and the Pacific, the competition featured training in artificial intelligence, HPC fundamentals, UCX programming, and Quantum Espresso, among others. The winners were announced in Dallas, Texas in November and will receive their awards in March at the Supercomputing Asia 2023 conference in Singapore.

The second landmark competition was the Inaugural HPC Innovation Challenge for the Environment, supported by GeoWorks, SGTech and SGInnovate. Open to local businesses and students, the program challenged its participants to think about HPC-enabled solutions that can support data-centric approaches to environmental management, reduce one’s carbon footprint, create better urban environments, and strengthen climate resilience. A total of 10 teams from the student and open categories were shortlisted for the solution development phase, where they received access to ASPIRE 2A and mentoring from subject matter experts.

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“The environmental solutions developed by the winning teams of the HPC Innovation Challenge are just the beginning,” said Professor Tan Tin Wee, Managing Director of NSCC. “Singapore is brimming with interest and talent for HPC and interest in the rest of the region is growing rapidly. Through events like this, we are very excited to give young people the opportunity to immerse themselves in this new era of HPC research.”

Towards an ASEAN HPC future

Taken together, these activities offer a glimpse into a thriving ASEAN HPC environment – ​​a future that is not too far away and promises exciting insights across a wide range of research areas.

dr Nikman Adli bin Nor Hashim, a Malaysian genome scientist who attended the EU-ASEAN HPC School last December, wants to build on his new experience in HPC technology for omics research. “It is undeniable that bioinformatics and computational tools are crucial in today’s research as we are dealing with large-scale computational analysis,” he told Supercomputing Asia in an interview. He hopes to share his findings with his colleagues to further improve research on Southeast Asian populations.

For her part, Leong is currently using HPC to study atmospheric processes in Peninsular Malaysia. She was again invited to attend the second EU-ASEAN HPC School, this time in person. Leong described the experience as “more than impressive” and hopes to contribute to climate-resilient development with her research.

Gagliardi plans to make the EU-ASEAN HPC School a permanent annual event, with countries taking turns hosting. Indonesia has already expressed an interest in hosting the school next year.

At the end of the day, Srichaikul says efforts like the EU-ASEAN HPC School are less about expensive hardware and infrastructure. “It’s really about who is using it and for what purpose,” he said. “These research applications are what bring value to the ASEAN communities today and in the future.”

Image: Jorgina Tan/ Asian Scientist Magazine

This article was first published in print by Supercomputing Asia in January 2023.
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