He was also exploring the effect of Government policy on STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Mr Courts decided to find out more about what we do here after Physics students from Cokethorpe School, which is in his Witney constituency, visited CERN in Geneva – home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
Data from the LHC is stored and handled at our UK Tier 1 and Tier 2 centres here at RAL, which are part of the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid. David Corney, Director of the Scientific Computing Department, and Ian Collier, who leads the team managing the distributed data services in the UK Tier 1 Centre, showed Mr Courts the huge scale of the operation with a chart of the Tier 1 and Tier 2 sites around the world, which are all linked.
These data-intensive Tier Centres process 600 million compute jobs per year using vast numbers of petabytes of data. CERN alone stores 160 petabytes of data and at RAL we store 27 petabytes of LHC data.
To give an idea of just how enormous that is, one petabyte is estimated to be large enough to store the DNA of the entire population of the United States – and then clone it, twice.
The Scientific Computing Department is addressing the skills shortage through our apprentice scheme, support for our Centre for Postdoctoral Training in data-intensive science, and many studentship schemes. We also support a huge amount of outreach activities to encourage and involve school students at a young age and get them interested in computing as a career.
In the last year we:
- Have had more than 1,600 contacts with people interested in Scientific Computing
- Provided tours of our machine room to 340 people
- Hosted 12 work experience placements
- Had 20 students participating in a week-long summer coding event
- Had 20 students visiting every month to take part in Saturday coding events
- Ran a three-day programming masterclass for GCSE level students
During his visit, Mr Courts also heard about JASMIN, another jewel in the Scientific Computing Department crown. Funded by NERC, JASMIN provides a unique platform for computing and storing UK and European environmental science data. When it was first installed this facility reduced processing time from months to hours and is now used by more than 30,000 climate modellers around the world.
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