Supercomputers at school

Author: Eilidh Troup
Posted: 22 Mar 2013 | 14:56

National Science and Engineering Week 2013 saw a gang of four from EPCC and Cray head to St Peters RC Primary School in Edinburgh. The group was introducing some ideas and activities about supercomputers and what they are used for. The group, Jo, Jason, Eilidh and Alistair were talking and interacting with the primary 5, 6 and 7 classes.

Jason shows children some CRAY hardware

We introduced mathematical modelling and supercomputers with a short cartoon and four activities for the pupils. Jason described what supercomputers are, with physical examples of the blades used in supercomputers, making sure to warn the pupils that the units could be sharp as evidenced by one of the pupils pointing out that Jason had cut himself.

Eilidh, building on previous experiences at the British Science Festival (BSF) and Bang goes the Borders (BGTB), was working with groups on a parallel card-sorting exercise. This is a very hands-on activity which allows people to realise some of the benefits and issues which can arise in doing parallel sorting.

Jo was working with the pupils on a new activity, colour ball-sorting in parallel. This was the first outing for this and seemed to get a competition going as to which group(s) could sort the balls the fastest. Possibly we will have to record such information for the pupils in the future.

Using an activity that others had used at the BSF and BTGB, which was a mouse urine simulation (molecular dynamics), Alistair was looking at what supercomputing could be used for and why we can't do a lot of the work without supercomputers. The simulation got a range of responses, mostly 'why mouse pee?'

Eilidh and children do card sorting exercise









The pupils all appeared to engage with the subject, coming up with a range of questions and ideas. The questions included 'Can we simulate volcanoes?', 'Can I use HECToR to buy from eBay?' to other less supercomputing based questions like 'Do you get lunch breaks?' There was general surprise that HECToR doesn't have a giant screen or mouse especially when they thought about the size of HECToR itself.

The group who went out enjoyed their time there and hope that the pupils found out some interesting information and had some fun doing it.


Eilidh Troup, EPCC


Mario Antonioletti's picture

If anyone wants to read about EPCC's activities at the British Science Festival 2012 in Aberdeen and Bang Goes the Borders in Melrose there is a short article about it here: