AsianScientist (Mar. 07, 2023) – In 2019, Dr Piyawut Srichaikul traveled 9,673 km from his home city of Bangkok to Barcelona, where he joined researchers from around the world at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Summer School on High Performance Computing (HPC). Co-organized by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS), the school featured a full week of lectures and hands-on exercises with some of the biggest names in HPC.
At the event, Srichaikul had an idea. “Instead of flying people to the EU,” Srichaikul asked himself, “What if we could bring a school like this to ASEAN?” Srichaikul is a co-chair of the ASEAN HPC Taskforce and also a senior researcher at the NSTDA Supercomputer Center (ThaiSC), located in Khlong Nueng, north of Bangkok.
It took a few years and the help of the Jakarta-based Enhanced Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument (E-READI), but this idea has now become reality: the University of Kasetsart in Bangkok recently hosted the second EU-ASEAN HPC School—the first to be held in person.
The first edition of the event, held in Bangkok in 2021, was fully remote given the health protocols in place at the time. But for the 2022 EU-ASEAN School, a total of 60 students selected from a pool of 300 applications from all 10 ASEAN member states were able to attend the event in person. The School ran from December 5 to 10, 2022, and is one of a growing number of programs and activities in the region encouraging young scholars to learn more about HPC-enabled research.
Creating Valuable Connections
Srichaikul explained that the EU-ASEAN HPC School has two goals. The first is to create a talent pipeline for the HPC industry.
“We want to grow local talent and promote capacity-building among ASEAN member states,” he told Supercomputing Asia in an interview. “We want students to learn and translate that learning to real benefits.”
The second, more long-term goal is promoting regional collaboration. “You cannot expect every nation to have the same technology,” Srichaikul said, explaining that while countries like Singapore and Thailand have national-scale HPCs in place, others are still laying out roadmaps to do the same. “ASEAN countries have economic gaps, and so we have to ask: How can we make HPCs into a regional resource so that our scientists can tap into this computing power?”
Dr Fabrizio Gagliardi, director of the EU-ASEAN HPC School, shares this view. “ASEAN is a little bit like Europe,” Gagliardi pointed out in an interview with Supercomputing Asia. “There are big differences, say, between countries like Germany and Romania. Their economies are completely different, the way it is with Singapore and Vietnam. And so, HPC schools are meant to be helping those who may be running a little behind.”
These two goals are why Gagliardi and his team designed the school to not only have sessions on the most powerful HPC systems in the region—such as Singapore’s ASPIRE 2A and Thailand’s LANTA, aside from Japan’s Fugaku and Finland’s LUMI—the program also included plenty of opportunities for participants to network with each other and with the school’s esteemed guests.
For the 2022 EU-ASEAN HPC School, the guests of honor included Satoshi Matsuoka, director of the RIKEN Center for Computational Science; Anders Jensen, executive director of EuroHPC; Jack Dongarra, Turing Laureate 2021 and author of the The LINPACK Benchmark that serves as the basis for the TOP500 list; and Supa Hannongbua, president of the Chemical Society of Thailand.
For his part, Gagliardi is no stranger to fostering younger researchers and networks. As a senior strategy advisor at the BSC-CNS, he has overseen several HPC summer schools in the EU and was part of the team that brought Srichaikul to Barcelona back in 2019.
Now Srichaikul’s colleague in organizing the EU-ASEAN HPC School, Gagliardi shared that it all boils down to developing the next generation of HPC scientists. “I think it’s part of any scientist’s mission. We work hard all our lives—which are relatively short—and we reach a level of knowledge we don’t want to be wasted, and so we want to train the younger generation. ” he said. “We want to ensure that there are people behind us to continue the work.” The same can be said for the guest speakers and lecturers, who came all the way to Bangkok in 2022 as volunteers.
By connecting students to state-of-the-art HPC technology, seasoned experts and each other, the EU-ASEAN HPC School hopes to develop participants’ potential not just for their individual research projects, but for the region in general.
Dr Marieanne Leong, an atmospheric scientist who received the Best Student Award in the 2021 EU-ASEAN HPC School, agrees. “My hope is for an open-source or shared HPC facility to be available in the ASEAN region,” she shared in an interview with Supercomputing Asia. “These facilities are expensive, and not all countries or organizations can afford it.” With this shared HPC environment, Leong hopes to pool regional expertise to tackle big issues like climate change.
“We have good people,” Srichaikul confidently said. “They know what they want to do. It’s just a matter of giving them the opportunity [to achieve it].”
“The Time Is Now, And The Opportunity Is Here”
For Gagliardi, there is no better time to grow HPC talent in ASEAN.
“It has always been very exciting,” said Gagliardi. “But now, there are so many transformations at the level of electronic components and the ways you put them together to interconnect memory hierarchies. And then on the software side, there are new ways to program all these large machines.”
With that in mind, he encourages young people to seek out different HPC programs. “The time is now, and the opportunity is here, regardless of whether you get into the EU-ASEAN HPC School or not.”
And he is right: aside from the school, there are webinars, scholarships and competitions for young scientists interested in learning more about HPC.
In 2022, for example, the National Supercomputing Centre (NSCC) Singapore organized two competitions. The first was the 2022 APAC HPC-AI Competition, for which the NSCC teamed up with the HPC-AI Advisory Council and the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) Australia. Open to teams from across Asia and the Pacific, the competition provided training in artificial intelligence, HPC foundations, UCX programming and Quantum Espresso, among others. Winners were announced in Dallas, Texas, in November, and will receive their awards at the Supercomputing Asia 2023 conference in Singapore this March.
The second landmark competition was the Inaugural HPC Innovation Challenge for the Environment, which was supported by GeoWorks, SGTech and SGInnovate. Open to local enterprises and college students, the program challenged its participants to think of HPC-enabled solutions that can support data-centric approaches to manage the environment, reduce one’s carbon footprint, create better urban environments and build climate resilience. A total of 10 teams across the student and open categories were shortlisted for the solution development phase, where they were given access to the ASPIRE 2A as well as mentorship from subject matter experts.
“The environmental solutions developed by the winning teams in the HPC Innovation Challenge are just the beginning,” said Professor Tan Tin Wee, chief executive of NSCC. “Singapore is brimming with interest and talent for HPC and interest in the rest of the region is rising rapidly. Through events like this, we are very happy to empower young people in diving into this new era of HPC research.”
Towards an ASEAN HPC Future
Taken together, these activities are providing a glimpse of a thriving ASEAN HPC environment—a future that isn’t too far, and one that promises exciting findings in a wide range of research areas.
Dr Nikman Adli bin Nor Hashim, a Malaysian genomic scientist who participated in the EU-ASEAN HPC School last December, is looking to build on his new experiences in HPC technology for omics research. “It is undeniable that bioinformatics and computational tools are crucial in today’s research, since we are dealing with heavy computational analyses,” he told Supercomputing Asia in an interview. He hopes to share his learnings with his colleagues to further improve research on Southeast Asian populations.
Leong, for her part, is currently using HPC to study atmospheric processes in Peninsular Malaysia. She was invited again to participate in the second EU-ASEAN HPC School, this time in person. Leong described the experience as “beyond awe-inspiring,” and hopes to use her research to contribute to climate-resilient development.
Gagliardi plans to make the EU-ASEAN HPC School a permanent annual event, with countries taking turns to play host. Indonesia has already expressed interest in hosting next year’s School.
At the end of the day, Srichaikul says that efforts like the EU-ASEAN HPC School are less about expensive pieces of hardware and infrastructure. “It’s really about who is using it and for what benefit,” he said. “These research applications are what bring value to ASEAN communities, today and in the future.”
Image: Jorgina Tan/ Asian Scientist Magazine
This article was first published in the print version of Supercomputing Asia, January 2023.
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