Summer of HPC: An experience to remember

In The Summer of HPC is a PRACE programme that offers summer placements at HPC centres across Europe. Up to 20 top applicants from across Europe are selected to participate. Participants spend two months working on projects related to PRACE technical or industrial work to produce a visualisation or video.

Luna Backes Drault was selected to participate in the inaugural Summer of HPC in 2013. “I was one of the 24 students selected from across Europe to participate in the first edition of the PRACE Summer of HPC programme,” she says. “I was part of the Laboratory of Computer-Aided Design at the University of Ljubljana, working on data visualisation for nuclear fusion simulations. I developed and improved the capabilities of the data visualisation framework, making it easier and providing more flexibility for scientists to analyse the modelling of Tokamak fusion reactors.”

Nuclear fusion promises to be the energy of the future. It is appealing for a number of reasons compared to other energy options that are being considered to replace fossil fuel based energy in the long-term. At present it is still not possible, but researchers from across Europe are working on making it a feasible source of energy. “My project aimed to improve on an existing program, the visualisation software that helps researchers analyse the results of their fusion simulations,” says Luna. “I worked on upgrading a plugin known as a UAL, or universal access layer, which allows one to access the fusion database where all the simulations are stored. This processes the information from the database directly. It’s a very complex database which only supercomputers can deal with.”

In fusion simulations, researchers collect data on what are known as CPOs (consistent physical objects), which are data structures that describe various physical aspects of fusion experiments. “These CPOs are described in the form of XML files,” explains Luna. “There already exists a translator of XML to C++ code, but we wanted to be able to translate it into other languages such as Python. However, creating a whole new translator for every target language would be too complicated. So for my project, I made a translator programme to transform the XML files containing the CPOs into an intermediate XML file, which is then easier to translate into C++, Python and other languages.”

Overall, Luna’s work will help scientists working in the area of nuclear fusion simulations to be able to improve the way that they can present their work visually. During her time at the University of Ljubljana, Luna also kept a blog about her work and eventually created a video presentation explaining her final results.

Luna looks back on her experience in Ljubljana with great fondness. “It was a great experience on so many levels,” she says. “When I arrived, I knew that I was going to be sharing an apartment with another one of the participants, but it turns out we were also sharing a room! We have become good friends, and also got to travel to other parts of Europe and meet other people participating in the programme.”

This was Luna’s first internship, and opened here eyes to the world of HPC. “Working with my mentor Leon Kos was a great experience and I learnt a lot from him and the other people in the lab.” Following on from the programme, Luna went to study at the University of Edinburgh as part of the European Erasmus scheme, and since then has worked at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center. She is now a graduate of computer engineering at the Texas A&M University. “In Texas I have also worked as an intern at Samsung Austin Research Center in the Performance Architecture team. I have now signed on with the university to begin my PhD shortly, working on the microarchitecture of processors.” Clearly, taking part in the Summer of HPC has driven her on to greater things.

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