Once again I’m lucky enough to take 4 year 10 students to the absolutely massive Supercomputing conference in the USA. This year for SC15 we’re in Austin Texas. I’m going to try to semi-live blog the conference as we go. We’ll see how well it works!
We’re starting the conference with the opening of the SC15 Student Programme. We’re listening to Keith Kirkwood of Northrop Grumman, who are the 4th largest defence contractor in the USA. They have the Global Hawk unmanned surveillance system that can fly for 37 hours without refuelling. They do Aerospace systems, Electronic Systems, Information Systems and Tech Services.
The Student programme has a recruiting/careers focus that at first glance doesn’t seem immediately relevant to year 10 students, but it’s a great opportunity for our kids to see the wide range of disciplines that work with supercomputing. Northrop Grumman has everything from ship-based sensors, navigation systems, space based sensors, through to weather sensors and cyber security, and that’s just one company.
Northrop Grumman are involved with the American National Strategic Computing Initiative, which is dedicated to building an exascale supercomputer by 2020. It’s really hard to get a sense of the size of an exascale computer. One exaflop is a billion billion (10 to the power of 18) FLOPS (floating point operations per second). For comparison the world’s fastest supercomputer as at June 2015, Tianhe-2, is capable of around 33 Petaflops (10 to the power of 15). So we’re looking for 3 orders of magnitude difference.
Some of the biggest problems with exascale computing are power and cooling – the systems are just really hard to build with current technology, so they are looking at using superconducting components to reduce power needs and heat loss. Memory is also an issue, so they are looking at cryogenic memory systems. Northrop Grumman are looking at using RQL (Reciprocal Quantum Logic) to try to make this happen. (Go look it up, it’s extraordinary stuff!)
Following this talk we had dinner, then the JMSS students, together with teams from Queensland Academy of Science, Maths, and Technology, and Faith Lutheran College, both from Brisbane, presented their sensor projects to university students and other SC participants. All the teams spoke really well and were bombarded with interested people asking a lot of questions and getting great answers. Our team came away with new ideas to extend and improve the project, and this is all on day 1 (our “quiet” day at the conference!).
It was a great opportunity for the kids to present their work and get inspired by new technologies and different perspectives.
Stay tuned for day 2!