Why would we send four year 10 students to an academic conference? What could they possibly gain from it?
Supercomputing is an extraordinary conference. There are certainly plenty of talks that will go over the students’ heads – and indeed over mine, despite the PhD in Computer Science, and my years in academia before I became a high school teacher.
But there is so much more than that. Last year we heard about how supercomputing allows us to model the world in so much detail that we can measure the impact of closing schools on the spread of a pandemic. Or of shutting down public transport. Or just asking people to stay home.
We heard how modeling of earthquakes actually changed our understanding of the earthquake risks in areas of California, changing building codes, crisis plans, and insurance rates.
We heard Alan Alda talk about science communication, and thought a lot about how it doesn’t matter how amazing the science you do is, if you can’t communicate it, it really hasn’t happened.
And we got to talk to scientists and programmers from organisations like NASA, Nvidia, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Texas Advanced Computing Centre, and SGI. The kids got to ask their own questions, and hear countless stories about how people got into Computation, what impact it has on their work, and how it changes the world.
Most importantly they got excited about the power of Computation, and they were able to bring that excitement home and share it with the rest of the school. Each year a teacher goes with the students and changes their own understanding of Computation, and how it relates to their particular discipline. This is my third time at SC, and every time the impact on me and my teaching has been huge.
This opportunity to link high school students and teachers with Computer Science academia and the supercomputing industry is extraordinary. And I actually think the impact goes both ways. Academics and professionals get to share their work with bright, enthusiastic young people, and think about how to present their field to a different audience. And we get to take back a new, intense understanding of the incredible change supercomputing is creating in the world.
The ripple effect of the stories we take home with us is vast. You can change the world with supercomputing, and you can change the world with young people. Combine the two and who knows what will happen? We are casting pebbles of knowledge and enthusiasm into the universe.
Everyone we spoke to at SC15 had a story, and everyone was generous and encouraging with the students.
So if you’re at SC16 and you see us around, come and say Hi. Share your story, and we’ll share ours. Who knows what effect your pebble might have?