Supercomputing at Bang Goes The Borders

Author: Iain Bethune
Posted: 26 Sep 2016 | 17:04

Success in the Build-a-computer challenge!Last weekend my EPCC colleagues Gordon, Alistair, Anne and I were at Bang Goes The Borders at St. Mary's School in Melrose.

BGTB is a family-friendly science festival held every September in the Scottish Borders - this is the fifth year in a row we've run a workshop there and it was good to see some repeat visitors from previous years as well as new faces, eager to find out about HPC and Computer Simulation.  

This year the weather was excellent and despite having to compete with outdoor activities including rocket-powered cars, boat building and the double-decker Zoo bus, things were still busy in the EPCC zone.

This year we ran the Build-A-Computer challenge for the second time, where kids as young as 4 took up screwdrivers and assembled desktop PCs from scratch. Over the day we managed to build 22 machines, and almost all of them worked (eventually). It's great to help people get hands-on with technology - learning that it's not scary or dangerous, and can even be fun!  

On the other side of the room we had some more HPC-oriented activites. Wee Archie was on display, with two interactive demos - one, a weather simulation developed by one of our Summer of HPC students, and the other an aerofoil design app where you can design a wing profile and calculate the effective lift and drag using computional fluid dynamics. Wee Archie was partitioned into halves, one running each of the demos so people could really see which parts of Wee Archie were being used when their simulation kicked in. While the demos weren't entirely flawless they were both good at getting people engaged with computer simulation.

Wee Archie and the Mandelbrot task-farmWhile waiting for a turn on Wee Archie, we also set up a mobile task-farm - using either one of our iPads or visitors' own smart phones it was possible to join our mini compute cluster and generate parts of a Mandelbrot set which was displayed on the big screen (see picture on right). The idea was to make people think about how a task can be split up into independent parts and solved in parallel, and that even the mobile phone in your pocket is a computer in its own right!

We have a few other science festivals coming up soon including the Midlothian Science Festival, IET Inspire and Dundee Science Festival.  One thing's for sure - Wee Archie is proving so popular we're having to look into building another one!

Author

Iain Bethune, EPCC
Iain's Twitter account: @IainBethune