A brief history of the ARCHER2 Image and Video Competition

6 November 2021

The competition gathers together some of the best images produced by users of the ARCHER2 UK national supercomputing service, which is hosted and managed by EPCC. 

Back in autumn 2014, just a couple of months after I had joined EPCC, I was invited to set up and launch an image competition to showcase the work being done on ARCHER, the UK’s national supercomputing service at that time. Having been immersed in the world of HPC for only a few weeks, I honestly had no idea what to expect. My assumption was that computational research, scientific simulations and crunching of complex equations didn’t really equate with aesthetically pleasing images, artwork and things of beauty. My work centred mainly on service users’ helpdesk, helping to set up projects and passing on problems with codes that weren’t running as hoped to our technical team, and also with administering our training programme, getting new users up and running. I hadn’t really seen much of the kinds of outputs the successful work could lead to.

As soon as the entries started coming in, it was clear that my expectations were completely off-base; the images were fascinating, beautiful, and engaging, and the accompanying text genuinely started my learning journey of what the users of ARCHER were achieving with their work.

In order to make the judging both fair and easy to conduct, I created an online gallery of all the entries, anonymised of course, along with the all-important descriptive text.  The gallery would allow the judges to review all the entries easily, and after the judging was completed, the gallery was opened to the public so everyone could enjoy them.

The next challenge was to assemble a judging panel.  We wanted to include people from a variety of backgrounds; some HPC experts who would appreciate the technical achievements of the work, but also non-HPC experts who would be focus on the impact for a general audience.

The final team for the first competition comprised ten people and included EPCC staff, ARCHER’s academic and industrial partner organisations, a graphic design artist who often works with EPCC on our Outreach and display materials, and members of the University of Edinburgh Outreach team. None of the judges knew anything about the images they were judging other than seeing the image itself and the accompanying text.

The judges were asked to select their top five images, rated first down to fifth, rating them on how they appealed aesthetically, how well they demonstrated “ARCHER enabling research”, and how well they conveyed the importance of ARCHER and HPC to the audience.

My very pleasurable job was then to tally up the judges’ marks, and then let the winning entrants know how to collect their prize money.

We have run the competition every year since, and the range of entries and the science areas represented have continued to grow. In 2017 we extended the competition to include video entries alongside the images.  We have also always offered a prize to the highest rated entry from an Early Career researcher, as well as the overall highest rated image and video.

The competition is thus a wonderful showcase for the work being done on ARCHER and ARCHER2 and the researchers doing that work, and is also a great opportunity for Early Career researchers to both show off their own work and to see what others are doing, and what opportunities may be open to them.

Looking at the galleries from the last seven years shows just how stunning and engaging the output of HPC can be. The competition has not changed a great deal over the years from an administrative point of view; the numbers of entries grew over the first few years, but we have always had plenty of stunning images and videos to choose from.  The judging panel is made up of a mix of some of the same people each year and some new faces, drawing from the same sources.

This year marks the eighth year of the competition, and the first year in which entries may come from work done on ARCHER2, so a whole new exciting range of work and images may be arriving in my inbox soon.  I can’t wait to turn them into a new gallery to share with everyone once more.

All previous entries can be viewed in our gallery at https://edin.ac/3nLZvfy Look out for this year’s winners in the next issue of EPCC News.

Image shows 2016 winner: “The birth of a footprint” by Dr Peter Falkingham, Natural Sciences & Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University.