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State of Science

Published on October 22, 2018 by Aaron Dubrow



Scenes from the inaugural TACC Symposium for Texas Researchers (TACCSTER). Sahar Bakhshian (top left) won an award for Best Poster.

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC)'s reach is global, but one of its core constituencies are Texas researchers.

In September 2018, more than 100 computational scientists and students from 16 Texas academic institutions and six industry partners met in Austin for the inaugural TACC Symposium for Texas Researchers (TACCSTER), a chance for scholars to showcase their research involving TACC resources, learn new and useful computing skills, network with other Texas-based researchers, and hear about the latest TACC systems and services.

"Attendance and participation at TACCSTER exceeded our expectations," said Joe Allen, a researcher in the Life Sciences group at TACC and the lead organizer of the event. "We received very positive feedback from the attendees and their enthusiasm was evident during the meeting."

TACCSTER included tutorials, Birds of a Feather panels and one-on-one meetings with TACC staff. [Photos by Jorge Salazar, TACC]

The two-day symposium included seven invited speakers, five tutorials, three "birds of a feather" panel discussions, 39 poster presentations, and opportunities for networking.

Keynote speaker Maša Prodanović, associate professor of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), described her experience developing the National Science Foundation-supported Digital Rocks Portal in collaboration with TACC staff.

"The project was driven by anger at losing data sets that someone had spent good amount of time and money acquiring, or having a hard time finding them," Prodanović said.

The portal enables researchers around the world to do analyses, curation, visualizations and simulations based on images of rock microstructures.

"The data is large, it's hard to share and sometimes there are privacy concerns. At the same time, to pursue science you need analysis acquired using lots of datasets and specialists in the field might not have the required computer science knowledge to handle them," she said. "It was critical that specialists were in mix with computer scientists."

This type of situation is hardly unique to subsurface engineering or geosciences data. Other invited speakers at the event discussed their TACC-enabled research in organic chemistry, the design of supersonic cooling for rocket engines, and social science research in the Big Data era.

"Everyone at UT System is extremely proud of the amazing work being done here at TACC, throughout the UT System, and across the state of Texas," said Preston Broadfoot, IT Project and Contract manager for UT System and another event organizer.

The Birds-of-a-Feather panels brought together TACC staff and users of TACC resources to discuss emerging areas of interest, including machine learning and teaching STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) with TACC. The tutorials, on the other hand, provided introduction and hands-on experience with TACC systems and services.

Additionally, TACC offered one-on-one meetings with staff members to discuss specific research problems or questions, as well as tours of TACC's machine room, which hosts more than a dozen advanced computing systems.

At the event, TACC unveiled the new TACC Discovery Portal, a web portal that provides an interface to TACC's petascale cyberinfrastructure and access to data and applications to researchers. The first iteration of the portal is geared toward UT System researchers.

"The new web-based interface for project management, job submissions and data sharing is much more user friendly," said Tulay Atesin, a chemistry professor at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) and an invited speaker. "We are very excited to test this new interface, since it has been challenging and time-consuming to train students to use the command line."

The poster session at TACCSTER.

The symposium particularly galvanized students who use TACC systems, like Reymundo Gonzales, an undergraduate at UTRGV who works as part of Atesin's group.

"The opportunity to network with TACC experts and learn about all the support offered to help streamline our research was a great experience," Gonzales said. "Overall, the TACC conference was awesome."

Winning Posters

The poster sessions were abuzz with activity on both days. Poster topics spanned many domains of science, as well as the arts and humanities.

TACC declared two Best Posters winners based on judging by staff. These went to Sahar Bakhshian, a postdoctoral fellow in the Bureau of Economic Geology, and Otitoaleke Akinola, a nanoelectronics researcher and Ph.D. student at UT Austin, who works in the Integrated Nano Computing Lab with Dr. Jean Anne Incorvia.

Bakhshian's research involves the study of carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration in geological formations, considered to be one of the most promising solutions to mitigate carbon emissions and, hence, global warming. Understanding how CO2 travels through pore spaces in subsurface formations is crucial for assessing the efficiency of geo-sequestration projects and optimizing subsurface flow management. The work she presented used TACC resources to enable intensive simulations.

"The event provided a great opportunity to share our experience using HPC with other researchers, network, participate in sessions with invited speakers from various fields, and have a chance to personally meet with TACC experts," Bakhshian said. "What I enjoyed the most during the event was the tutorial session for machine learning, which helped me gain basic knowledge in this area and learn how TACC resources can be applied in this field."

Akinola's poster described micromagnetic modeling of three terminal magnetic tunnel junctions that can potentially act as controllable synapses. The researchers employed graphic processor units on the Lonestar5 supercomputer which helped cut down processing time by a factor of nearly 100. The work is helping to design the core building blocks of bioinspired computing.

TACC Executive Director Dan Stanzione presents a Best Poster award to Otitoaleke Akinola.

"I found the TACC symposium particularly interesting because it was an opportunity to meet people who work in research areas that are totally out of my domain," Akinola said. "What is even more fascinating is seeing how different people use the supercomputers and clusters available at TACC to do research ranging from geophysics to rocket science. I was impressed by how much support and resources the TACC staff was willing to provide to ensure smooth research work."

Designed with participants in mind, the event benefitted the symposium planners as well.

"Symposia like TACCSTER are important for us to gain feedback from the researchers we support," Allen said. "It helps us to gain insight into what are we doing right and what we can do better. We look forward to hosting the symposium again next year, and are taking feedback to heart to drive next year's agenda."

In his remarks, TACC Executive Director Dan Stanzione echoed this sentiment.

"Our goal is to build the ecosystem of resources you need. Help us shape that ecosystem – the hardware, services and people required to make discoveries," he said. "Dream big while you're here. Come up with hard problems we can solve together."


Contact

Faith Singer-Villalobos

Communications Manager
faith@tacc.utexas.edu | 512-232-5771

Aaron Dubrow

Science And Technology Writer
aarondubrow@tacc.utexas.edu

Jorge Salazar

Technical Writer/Editor
jorge@tacc.utexas.edu | 512-475-9411