People - Written by on May 10, 2016

Titan Goes on Tour

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ORNL staff members (from left) Suzanne Parete-Koon, Kevin Bivens, Tiffany Mintz, Jonathan Hines, Jayson Hines, and Kat Engstrom talked to thousands of attendees about how supercomputers are being used to solve the world’s biggest problems at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington DC. In addition to working at the April event, OLCF staff helped design the exhibit.

ORNL staff members (from left) Suzanne Parete-Koon, Kevin Bivens, Tiffany Mintz, Jonathan Hines, Jayson Hines, and Kat Engstrom talked to thousands of attendees about how supercomputers are being used to solve the world’s biggest problems at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington DC. In addition to working at the April event, OLCF staff helped design the exhibit.

ORNL’s Traveling Science Fair brings supercomputing to DC festival

Of all the adjectives used to describe the Titan supercomputer at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), “mobile” has rarely been among them.

Nevertheless, ORNL staff found a way to take Titan on the road in April for the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. The supercomputing exhibit on wheels, part of ORNL’s Traveling Science Fair, offers youth and adults the opportunity to learn about America’s fastest supercomputer and the power of parallel computing through interactive displays and hands-on experiences.

More than 350,000 people attended the 3-day event dedicated to increasing public awareness of the importance of science and inspiring youth to pursue science and engineering careers. Over the course of the weekend, the ORNL team interacted with thousands of attendees, sharing how computers are being used to solve the world’s biggest problems.

“The festival was a great experience and a great opportunity for STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] outreach,” said Jayson Hines, Computing and Computational Sciences Directorate (CCSD) project manager who represented ORNL at the festival and coordinated the exhibit design. “This is the first of many events where we plan to use the trailer to showcase ORNL’s leadership in supercomputing.”

Joining Hines at the festival were Kevin Bivens, Suzanne Parete-Koon, and Kat Engstrom of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF), a DOE Office of Science User Facility. Computer Science Research Group member Tiffany Mintz and ORNL science writer Jonathan Hines also staffed the exhibit.

The walk-through exhibit, titled “What’s Your Problem,” aims to illustrate a few of the basic concepts of parallel computing as well as demonstrate how supercomputers are being used to solve many of the biggest scientific challenges facing researchers today. Onboard the trailer, participants walk past a mirrored “infinity room,” using their imaginations to answer a question: “What would you do if there were more of you?” Next, participants have the opportunity to take a walk “inside” the Titan supercomputer, where they learn how parallel computing is like building a house—to get the job done efficiently, workers must carry out different tasks at the same time.

After stepping outside of the computer, participants get the chance to operate Tiny Titan, a portable parallel computer designed by OLCF staff to educate audiences on basic scientific computing concepts. Outside the exhibit, staff asked children and teens to get creative and draw a problem they think is worthy of future OLCF supercomputer Summit.

“It was really great to watch kids’ faces as they walked past the interreflecting mirrors of the infinity room and saw their many reflections,” Parete-Koon said. “The mirrors definitely had a carnival-like appeal, but then one of our team members would ask how fast they could clean their rooms if their reflections could help. With their shouts of ‘Minutes!’ or ‘Seconds!’ the foundational idea of parallel work was planted.”

In addition to the USA Science and Engineering Festival, the ORNL supercomputing exhibit is set to appear at the Secret City Festival in Oak Ridge and the Robotics Revolution event at the Muse Knoxville children’s museum later this year.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is supported by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.