Every year, a delegation from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) travels to the US for the biggest and most heavily attended annual Supercomputing conference and exhibition. And we present our work, our staff and expertise by welcoming visitors to our exhibition booth where they can discuss issues, find solutions and perhaps forge mutually-beneficial international friendships.
In 2020 the global coronavirus pandemic brought a halt to international travel and to the large gatherings of high-performance computing (HPC) and data-intensive science specialists the conference usually encourages. So the organisers of SC20 decided to go ahead with an online conference instead… and STFC responded with a strong virtual presence rather than a physical one.
This largely materialised in the form of a 'virtual exhibition booth', a website which showcased a selection of the work we are involved in internationally, and the benefits this brings to science and industry. This virtual platform meant that we could display posters that celebrated the impact of our work within the HPC community; links to publications, and a number of videos, including two produced by summer internship students.
Visitors to the virtual exhibition booth had the opportunity to practise their scratch coding by attempting to rejuvenate Flexipede, thought to be the world's first computer-generated character, which was originally produced at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in 1967.
We also ran a fun competition where conference delegates and their families could build a model of our JASMIN super-data-computer, using a downloadable template. Participants had to take a picture of their completed model in an unusual place (and abiding by local lockdown rules) and then post it on Twitter to be entered into a prize draw.
Attendees of SC20 always look forward to the esteemed technical program of talks, workshops and tutorials. Despite the challenges of Covid-19, we were delighted that the ever popular ‘Birds of a Feather’, or BoF, sessions could still go ahead.
Catherine Jones, the UKERC Energy Data Centre Lead at STFC, contributed to a BoF session as a leader for a session focusing on the challenges currently faced by Software Engineers in Computational Science and Engineering ; the need to raise awareness of these challenges; and the establishment of a community of practice to continue such important discussions.
Evguenia Alexandrova, Vassil Alexandrov and James Clark, all from the Hartree Centre, chaired workshops covering topics on Best Practices for HPC Training and Education, Scalable Algorithms for Large Scale Systems and Python for High Performance and Scientific Computing.