July 07, 2022 - by Simone Ulmer

For the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PASC Conference took place live on site, but those who could not travel to the conference also had the opportunity to participate virtually. The hybrid event attracted around 300 eager participants to the Congress Center Basel for stimulating face-to-face discussions about the latest in advanced scientific computing. Additionally, around 100 more participants and speakers connected online.

Martin Stricker, Head of Economic Development of the Canton of Basel City, opened the conference on Monday morning, June 27, by welcoming the participants. Then the two conference chairs took over: Lois Curfman McInnes from Argone National Laboratory and Petros Koumoutsakos from ETH Zurich and Harvard University. This year's theme, "Computing and Data...for all Humankind", set the tone for discussions to come.

“Today, we are living in amazing times,” said Koumoutsakos. “We have at our disposal computing resources and data that nobody ever had before. From designing missiles to designing cars, computing has tremendous potential to impact other topics. The topics that we picked are for all humankind. These are the themes we thought we should be addressing: computing for planet Earth, epidemiology and public health, data science and social inequality.”

There were five keynotes throughout the conference centered on these top topics, as well as an interdisciplinary dialogue between ETH Board President Michael Hengartner and innovative computer scientist Emma Pierson from Cornell University.

It was the intention of PASC22 to showcase how computational and data science help in addressing these global challenges. The technical program of PASC22, which included 43 mini-symposia, was organized around the following scientific domains: chemistry and materials; climate, weather and earth sciences; computer science and applied mathematics; humanities and social sciences; engineering; life sciences; and physics.

A new era for climate models, with new challenges

After the welcome ceremony, Pier Luigi Vidale, Professor of Climate System Science at the University of Reading (UoR) and Director of the UoR-ECMWF research collaboration, led off with the first keynote. His presentation dealt directly with one of the great challenges facing humanity: climate change. He reported on the successes achieved in climate modelling in recent years.

Thanks to steadily increasing computer power and improved Global Climate Models (GCMs), it has been possible to simulate with higher fidelity some of the fundamental processes that control the climate system, said Vidale.  Many of these advances have been afforded by increases of GCM resolution, both in the atmosphere and in the ocean. Despite these notable successes, however, the simulations are still fraught with errors, so that even more advanced high resolution GCMs, with improved skill in simulating regional phenomena, are needed to enable more robust risk assessment and to plan appropriate adaptation measures.

In his presentation, Vidale showed that, according to the latest models, capable of simulating the details of oceanic circulation and the relative air-sea interaction, we must be prepared for the possibility of even more extreme precipitation impacting Europe in the future. In some of those projections, and for specific locations, “A whole year's worth of rain could fall in one day," said the researcher. In terms of specific weather phenomena, “storm resolving” simulations suggest that, while the global frequency of hurricanes will decrease, they will become on average more intense. Also, due to changes in oceanic temperatures and atmospheric circulation, hurricanes, and typhoons, which are normally thought of as tropical phenomena, may increasingly progress into the extra-tropics. “This aspect of climate change is problematic, because mid-latitude countries are not prepared to withstand the impacts of hurricane winds, precipitation, but mainly of ‘hurricane storm surge’, which pushes several metres of sea water on land for one to several days”, added Vidale.

The inside story of the first image of a black hole

A report by Shepard Doeleman, Professor at Harvard University and Founding Director of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), on the first photo of a black hole was another highlight of the conference. Under his leadership, a team of researchers succeeded in getting such a picture by linking radio telescopes in Hawaii, Arizona, Spain, Mexico, Chile and at the South Pole to form a worldwide network, the EHT. Doeleman, a gifted storyteller, shared the exciting tale behind the picture: When the researchers had analysed the collected data and put it together like a puzzle —"Light delivered by FedEx", jokes Doeleman, referring to the fact that FedEx delivered the data carriers — they finally had the picture. Still, the researchers spent another six months testing every possible method to be sure the photo did indeed represent a black hole. Only then did they publish the photo, which immediately made it to the front pages of newspapers worldwide and captured the imagination of the public.

Other conference highlights included the Interdisciplinary Dialogue between Hengartner and Pierson on how data science is being harnessed to tackle social and health inequality; the Microsoft-sponsored keynote by Łukasz Mirosław, an HPC/AI specialist at Microsoft, on "Exaflops Achieved — So What’s Next in Supercomputing to Address Humanity's Challenges?"; and the keynote by Olivia Keiser, an SNSF professor in epidemiology at the Institute of Global Health (IGH) at the University of Geneva, on "The Challenges of Modern Epidemiology: From Classical Field Studies to Complex Models".

Papers and posters showcase attendees’ wide-ranging expertise

In addition to the keynotes and minisymposia, there were also several paper presenting sessions, as well as the Flash Poster Session, in which 46 researchers had 30 seconds to present their poster and entice the audience to visit it. The conference participants selected the best posters at the end, there were three winners: Theresa Pollinger from University of Stuttgart in the poster category Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, Martin Karp from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Engineering and Stefan Herbert Strub from ETH Zürich in Physics.

Martin Berzins from the University of Utah was awarded with the ACM Best Paper Award together with John Holmen and Damodar Sahasrabudhe, both from the University of Utah.

Finally, Nicola Marzari, Professor at EPFL, gave his keynote speech entitled “There is Plenty of Room at the Top: Novel Two-Dimensional Materials from the Computational Exfoliation of All Known Compounds”. Afterwards, the materials scientist was honored for his research work with the inaugural PRACE HPC Excellence Award. 

Looking ahead to 2023

Next year’s PASC Conference will take place June 26 – 28, 2023 in Davos. It will be co-chaired by Eleni Chatzi, Associate Professor at ETH Zürich, and Michael Heroux, Senior Scientist at Sandia National Laboratories and Scientist in Residence at St. John’s University. Stay tuned!

Videos of the PASC Conference 2022

PASC Conference

The Platform for Advanced Scientific Computing (PASC) Conference is an interdisciplinary conference in HPC that brings together domain science, applied mathematics and computer science – where computer science is focused on enabling the realization of scientific computation.

The PASC Conference provides three days of stimulating and thought-provoking technical sessions, including keynote presentations, mini-symposia, peer-reviewed papers, panels and poster sessions. The conference is co-sponsored by ACM SIGHPC, and full papers are published in the ACM Digital Library.