HPC outreach: not a moment to lose!

Author: Nick Brown
Posted: 19 Jun 2018 | 18:39

“There is not a moment to lose” – I don’t know if you have ever read any of the Aubrey-Maturin books by the late Patrick O’Brian, set at the turn of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries and describing life in the Royal Navy. Even if you have only flicked through one of the books, you will probably have picked up an almost constant sense of urgency (a realistic representation of what pervaded the Navy at that time) in the books, much to the annoyance of the decidedly un-Navy-like Dr Maturin!

Considering the modern pace of change I think this sentiment is truer today, especially in scientific fields, than it has ever been before. Certainly from my perspective there is an urgency to try and push forward the state-of-the-art in HPC and share it, before other people’s activities supersede my work. However, I think this same sense of urgency also applies to other, non-technical, aspects of our community. Diversity is a prime example here and, whilst there are some excellent initiatives being adopted by the likes of the SuperComputing (SC) and ISC conferences, we still have a long way to go.

In my mind outreach and public engagement are also things that the community needs to push, and indeed in recent years there have been significant developments. There are several reasons why we should be concerned with outreach, and it is my belief that a very important one is that it can help us to meet our diversity goals. Successful outreach, which encourages a wide variety of individuals to consider science, and possibly HPC, as a career can be a key tool in helping shape the future make-up of our community. But also public engagement informs the general public of what we are doing, why it is important and crucially why we deserve tax payers' money! I think SC had its finger on the pulse when it adopted the “hpcmatters” hashtag, but more needs to be done to share the importance of HPC to a general audience.

This therefore draws me to the heart of why I have written this blog post. We have a Birds-of-a-Feather session (BoF) at ISC about HPC outreach and public engagement. Hopefully from what I have written you can see that our definition of outreach covers a wide variety of areas. These include engaging with school kids about science, enthusing older university students about HPC, sharing the importance of HPC with the general public, and encouraging scientists & engineers to use HPC in their research.

The idea of the BoF is to bring together people who are doing, or interested in doing, outreach. Irrespective of whether someone is experienced in outreach, or if they are just starting out and want to get more involved, the idea is that by meeting up we can all learn from each other. Our session at ISC lasts for an hour and the plan is for this to be heavily interactive; sharing experiences of public engagement, discussing best practice and tips for doing better outreach, and exploring questions around how to ensure outreach can help the community’s diversity efforts. There will also be several demos present and time at the end for attendees to get hands-on with these. Crucially these are all “open” and instructions for using them in your own outreach will be provided.

June will see the third run of an outreach BoF, previous ones having been held at SC16 and SC17. But importantly ISC will be the first time we have done this in Europe and I think we will get a somewhat different audience. Certainly the outreach BoFs at SC have been very successful and generated lots of interesting discussion, the key is bringing together the worldwide community and I am excited about the new ideas and discussions that we will have in Frankfurt about outreach.

So in my mind there is indeed not a moment to lose in leveraging outreach and public engagement to help improve the HPC community and shape it for the future. It would be great to see you in Frankfurt and you can find more information about the BoF here. It will be held on Wednesday 27 June, 10:30am to 11:30am in the Pikkolo room. We hope to see you there. If you want more information, please pop by the EPCC booth (number B-1251).

Author

Nick Brown, EPCC