Doing Super Science with Supercomputers - EPCC at Big Bang Fair 2016

Author: Mirren White
Posted: 19 Feb 2016 | 09:49

Next month, a group of EPCC staff members will be travelling to Birmingham to take part in The Big Bang Fair 2016, a national science festival for school children. The event takes place over four days and will reportedly attract in excess of 70,000 visitors, so this is a great opportunity to showcase ARCHER, EPCC and all of the work we do here.

The Fair attracts exhibitors and visitors from across the country, and is open to schoolchildren of all ages. With that in mind, we have designed a stand that aims to gives a brief, exciting intro to the world of supercomputing.

First, we’ll be using the ARCHER supercomputing app. This gives kids a chance to run their own computing facility, customising their supercomputer as they see fit and competing to see who can get the highest score! From this, they’ll learn a little about the day-to-day life of a supercomputer, about all of the little decisions that need to be made to keep supercomputers (such as our very own ARCHER) running smoothly. Designing nodes, choosing components, fixing breakages, upgrading cooling and interconnects – they’ll need to do it all if they want achieve National HPC centre status and make the big bucks needed for a high score.

We’ve done some optimisations of the existing app to take to the fair, mainly in making the app a little more user-friendly, and making the always-helpful assistant more prominent. With its fun design and competitive element, we’re sure this will be a big hit at the show.

We’ll also be doing a demo, specially designed for the show, that will teach the audience a bit about parallelism and why it’s important for our machines to be able to do lots of things at the same time. This takes the form of a mail-sorting demo, in which the kids take on the roles of sorting office workers and post deliverers to show how time-consuming it is to only be able to do one thing at a time. The kids will work through the demo twice, first on their own and then in teams, to see how much faster they can sort through the pile of letters together – whilst still making sure all the letters go to the right places! Not only will this be a fun and engaging demo to use at the show, we will also be able to cycle this into our own repertoire of activities to be used at future events as well.

The showpiece of our stand, though, will be Wee Archie. Sitting on a new plinth designed especially for it, the kids will be able to see our mini supercomputer from all angles, find out more information, and participate in new and improved dinosaur races. It will probably be the first time many of them have seen anything like Wee Archie, so we expect he will be a real talking point. The dinosaur race demo is being optimised so that several kids at a time are able to design their dinosaurs and then race against each other. There may even be new dinosaur models to choose from!

Kids who visit the stand and participate in the activities will be able to learn what supercomputers are, how they work, and experience for themselves a little of what they can do. We’re confident this event will be a great success for Archer and EPCC. If you want to come to our event it is entitled: Doing Super Science with Super Computers. Hope to see some of you there.