Recent survey identifies gaps in educational resources needed to train America's future computational scientists

Report cites need for materials to take advantage of petascale computing

Columbus, Ohio (July 1, 2009) – A recent survey of American researchers, software developers, educators and students reveals that a significant national effort is needed to fill gaps in education and training materials needed to prepare tomorrow’s computational scientists to take advantage of high performance supercomputers.

The Report on High Performance Computing Training and Education Survey provides a baseline assessment of the skills and concepts required by American computational scientists tackling challenging research problems with high performance computing (HPC) technology.

The survey and report represent a joint effort of HPC University, a virtual organization of university and laboratory professionals involved in computational science, and the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC), a state-funded HPC center serving education, academic research, industry and government. The TeraGrid, a collaborative organization funded by the National Science Foundation to spur scientific discovery by leveraging the combined computational resources of its partners, supported the project.

“The National Science Foundation and other national organizations have recognized the need for the United States to improve many aspects of computational science education,” said Steve Gordon, director of the Ralph Regula School of Computational Science at OSC. “A national initiative to identify and/or design quality educational materials to address the weaker areas of training will require a significant commitment of resources by federal agencies, HPC centers and universities.”

The questionnaire was based on a similar effort undertaken in 2008 by the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe, a consortium of the 16 leading supercomputing centers in Europe. The PRACE survey similarly concluded, “There is a significant need for improved training in nearly all areas of HPC education.”

The HPC Training and Education Survey revealed that for a few standardized areas, there is a clear consensus that quality educational materials already exist. Those materials are being actively sought from among the supercomputing community to be catalogued on the HPC University portal (www.hpcuniv.org/) for the community at-large.

For most of the other areas of need, the survey indicated there is not a clear consensus on the availability of quality materials. This may be because they actually do not exist, but for some areas could equally be to the lack of knowledge of the respondents. For each of those areas, the survey analysts believe that a more in-depth search for such materials must be conducted and evaluated.

“One of those challenges we face in the evolving HPC community is to expand the knowledge of our science and engineering workforce so that they can make efficient use of our most powerful systems,” said Scott Lathrop, TeraGrid’s area director for education, outreach and training. “The results of this survey will be instrumental in defining a set of priorities for education and training activities needed to meet the requirements for petascale computing competence.”

Where major gaps in important areas are found among the available materials, strategies to create such materials must be put into place. These must be coupled with a review process as well as accreditation that the materials are suitable for particular audiences.

As of May 18, 2009, there were 134 respondents to the survey. The majority of respondents are in academia (84 percent), while other significant groups were from the industry (8 percent) and government (7.5 percent) sectors. The survey was divided into ten sections to provide information on skill sets in different areas:

  • Background and Demographics
  • Computer Programming
  • Advanced Programming and Parallel Programming
  • Numerical Libraries and Algorithms
  • Debugging, Profiling, and Optimization
  • Data Management, Parallel I/O, and Fault Tolerance
  • Scientific Visualization
  • Grid Computing
  • Education
  • Critical Skills and Development

An electronic copy of the Report on High Performance Computing Training and Education Survey can be downloaded from the Ralph Regula School at www.rrscs.org/news/ or from the HPC University at www.hpcuniv.org/resources/documents/.

HPC University is a virtual organization of faculty and professionals from universities, state and federally sponsored HPC centers, HPC research laboratories, and other organizations interested in computational science education and training. For more, visit http://www.hpcuniv.org.

The Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) is a catalytic partner of Ohio universities and industries, providing a reliable high performance computing and high performance networking infrastructure for a diverse statewide/regional community including education, academic research, industry, and state government. Funded by the Ohio Board of Regents, OSC promotes and stimulates computational research and education in order to act as a key enabler for the state's aspirations in advanced technology, information systems, and advanced industries. For more, visit http://www.osc.edu.

TeraGrid is an open scientific discovery infrastructure combining leadership class resources at eleven partner sites to create an integrated, persistent computational resource. For more, visit http://www.teragrid.org.