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Lone Star State of Science

Published on October 8, 2019 by Aaron Dubrow

Ellen Rathje, Janet S. Cockrell Centennial Chair in Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, delivered the TACCSTER keynote address.

The second TACC Symposium for Texas Research (TACCSTER) in September built on the success of the inaugural event with even more talks, tutorials, and posters by leading computational scientists in the state.

More than 110 participants from 25 Texas universities and companies attended the two-day event, which included seven invited talks, six tutorials, two panel discussions, nine lightning talks, and 41 posters representing scholarship from more than 10 universities.

TACC Executive Director Dan Stanzione kicked off the event with an update on Frontera, the fastest university supercomputer in the world, which launched in September, and a preview of what's coming next for TACC. Never one to rest on his laurels, Stanzione's presentation touched on the planning for Frontera's future replacement, a system 10 times more powerful that will debut in 2024 and bring computational science into the Exascale Era, where computing systems will be capable of at least one exaFLOPS or a quintillion calculations per second.

TACC Executive Director Dan Stanzione discusses research with Vivian Rogers, a TACCSTER poster presenter from UT Austin.

Stanzione asked for input from the Texas computing community to help guide decisions about what type of investments the center makes. "One of the things I'd like to have happen over the next couple days is to get your feedback on where you'd like to see us take the center in terms of how we support your research projects. What do you want in a leadership facility? What kinds of compute, data, support, and new modes of access?"

Ellen Rathje, professor of Structural Engineering at UT Austin and principal investigator on the $13 million, National Science Foundation-funded DesignSafe Cyberinfrastructure project, delivered the keynote address at TACCSTER.

Her talk discussed the planning, design, and implementation of the web-based DesignSafe portal, which brings together the natural hazards research community. It also touched on the importance of data sharing, curation, and citation generally — in her area, natural hazards, and throughout science and engineering.

"I encourage everyone to formally publish your data sets in a stable data repository, because you want it to be there for the long term," Rathje expressed. "And this doesn't only mean the data. It could be a visualization or the processing scripts that took the raw data and got a certain result. Not only that, list them on your CV, show people that you value data contributions."

The lightning talks and poster sessions showcased the diversity of projects that use TACC resources, from geophysics to solar photovoltaics and from gravitational waves to bird calls. This included not just researchers performing simulation and modeling, but using TACC resources for data storage, machine learning, and education and outreach.

Ebrahim Eslami, a PhD candidate in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Houston, won Best Poster for his work developing a machine learning-powered hurricane forecasting system.

For Vicky (Mingna) Zhuang, a biodiversity collections manager at The University of Texas at El Paso, TACCSTER provided an opportunity to promote Arctos, a multi-institution online database and community that UTEP is a part of.

"TACCSTER was a great place to show how TACC resources are being used to help preserve museum collections and use collections in new and interesting ways," said Zhuang, who presented a poster and lightning talk at the event. "Also, I was able to talk with people who have similar physical object tracking and locality data issues and get suggestions that I can bring back to the Arctos community."

For Jessica Marquez, an algebra teacher at Del Valle High School who worked at TACC over the summer, TACCSTER provided an opportunity to share her experience with others.

"We were able to explain our research in person and help other educators think outside the box when implementing virtual reality in their classrooms," she said.

Ebrahim Eslami, a PhD candidate in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Houston, won the award for Best Poster at the conference for his work developing a machine learning-powered hurricane forecasting system.

His research marries machine learning with ensemble modeling and corrects for biases by training the system with 14 years of weather and prediction data. The system outperformed leading models in terms of errors in guidance and intensity in 2018. For Hurricane Harvey, it performed 13 percent better in predicting the hurricane track and 34 percent better predicting its intensity.

TACC research engineer Weijia Xu meets one-on-one with Dr. Rebecca Cordell, an assisant professor at UT Dallas and a TACCSTER participant.

"I wanted to take the pulse of what is happening in HPC in terms of tools, technologies, and processes, and hear ideas I wasn't aware of," he said. "Also, the event helps build my reputation as a scientist."

Participants had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with TACC staff to discuss their research projects, and to network with each other, forming bonds with scholars at different campuses doing related computational work.

TACC's advanced computing interfaces team demonstrated the newly-launched University of Texas Research Cyberinfrastructure (UTRC) portal, a custom site for Texas-based researchers to store data, collaborate with colleagues, and access TACC resources. They also shared expertise in data science, containerization, and APIs.

At the end of the TACC Experts panel, Charlie Dey, the panel moderator and head of training at TACC, expressed the sentiment at the heart of the event.

"We use the word TACCSTER as a term of endearment for those of us who work here," Dey said. "But with the past couple of conferences, we realized that TACCSTERs are not just the people that work here, but also all of the people using our systems. Essentially, all of us are TACCSTERs."

To learn more about TACCSTER, or how to participate in future symposia, please email: or visit


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