November 30, 2015

CSCS is committed to engaging young people in science and technology and collaborates with different local initiatives aimed at motivating and educating young people. Mario Valle, a computational scientist at CSCS recently took part in the TecDay@Lilu2. We asked Mario to tell us about his experience:

"The TecDays are an initiative of the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences (SATW) and aim to increase the interest in science and technology among young people. During this event, high school students attend an interactive module of their choice from a broad range of scientific topics and meet experts from research and industry. TecDays are well established in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and this is the second year they have been organized also in Ticino.

This year, the “TecDay@Lilu2” was held on November 20th at the Liceo Lugano 2. I supported the initiative by organizing a module dedicated to CSCS, supercomputers and computational science. I introduced the topic by explaining why supercomputers and simulations are important for science, and, ultimately, for society. I showed this through examples of computer simulations done by CSCS users from a range of scientific fields, including astrophysics, biology, and chemistry. I then explained how supercomputers work, why we need parallelism to overcome the physical limitations of computer processors, and how computational mathematics differs from the mathematics that students study at school. To better explain these concepts the students took part in two hands-on acitivities: in the first, called the “human supercomputer”, the students acted as parallel processing units for a very simple problem, and saw why the speed up achieved is almost never as much as might be hoped for; in the second, the students had the chance to touch and analyze various components of a supercomputer.

It was nice to see so many students deeply interested and curious about HPC. It was particularly encouraging to see the number of questions coming from young women in the audience: this bodes well for the future of HPC, which is currently very much a male-dominated discipline. I’m already looking forward to February 2016, when we will take part in the next TecDay at the Bündner Kantonsschule in Chur. This initiative should continue to be supported, because, who knows, these young people might be the supercomputer users of tomorrow".