Summer Internships Offer Students Hands-On Experience, Mentorship
The OLCF offers students of varied backgrounds an opportunity to work alongside HPC professionals
Since 1946, Oak Ridge Associated Universities and the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have partnered to provide internships in subject areas ranging from climate research to nuclear nonproliferation policy. In these 71 years, more than 9,000 participants from 885 US universities and more than 300 international universities have provided students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in their respective fields of interest.
Each summer, the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, hosts student interns of various interests and background, from high school students exploring their interest in programming for high-performance computing (HPC), to PhD candidates honing their research skills. The following is a look into the jobs and professional development of selected interns currently serving at the OLCF.
Daniel Barry is a rising senior at the University of Tennessee–Knoxville (UT), double majoring in computer engineering and mathematics. He first stepped onto the ORNL campus as a part of the High Performance Computing Student Cluster Competition, an event designed to develop students’ skills and confidence in HPC as well as make connections with professionals in the field. Barry made sure to take advantage of both parts of that equation by reaching out to Stephen McNally, Operations Manager at the OLCF, following the competition. In proof that networking is a vital tool, especially for college students, McNally now serves as Barry’s mentor in the OLCF internship program.
Barry works with McNally and staff from the HPC Operations Group to inventory operational data flow from the OLCF systems to understand how to make the best use of the information the systems contain.
“The idea of the project is to centralize operational output of the systems we have in production. Rather than collecting this information through a variety of scripts running on disparate machines, the goal is to collect, analyze, and make decisions with this information,” Barry said. “In short, the project seeks to provide consumable information that will lead to informed decision making.”
Barry plans on pursuing a PhD in the Data Science and Engineering program at UT. In the meantime, he is mindful to absorb everything he can from his hands-on internship experience this summer.
“What I’m working on now is something that I’ve never done before, even though I have been out here several times in the past,” Barry said. It never ceases to amaze me the amount that I learn every time I speak to someone here or am given a task to complete. You can tell that they want you here and that they want you to be learning every day.”
Joanna Reed is a recent graduate of L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville, where she focused her high school studies on computer science. For her, this choice of academic concentration came about thanks to a few select instructors and an engaging curriculum. Even though she claims that she barely knew how to turn on her laptop until a few years ago, Joanna now works as part of a team charged with programming one of the most crucial day-to-day aspects of operating a supercomputer—keeping it cool.
“In the Summit Temperature Project, we are working to better communicate with the plant that will provide water to cool Summit,” Reed said. “The software we are developing will take into account factors such as water flow and weather in order to keep Summit’s nodes at an acceptable temperature.”
Joanna’s work is part of the big picture plan to increase operational efficiency and to reduce the cost of cooling a machine as powerful as Summit. When the supercomputer goes live in 2018, it will feature a number of cost saving innovations, including the use of warm-water cooling, a method that is projected to lower the OLCF’s cooling costs by half.
Working under the supervision of her mentor, Jim Rogers, Director of Computing and Facilities for ORNL’s National Center for Computational Sciences, Joanna has the opportunity to get hands-on experience in her field even before she enters college.
“I’m getting so much knowledge in such a short amount of time,” Reed said. “I had experience in school with individual coding languages, but this is the first time I have had to make multiple pieces of software work together. It feels like such a good experience to have, because that’s exactly what you need to know when working in the real world.”
Joanna’s appointment at ORNL will continue until mid-August, when she will begin study in UT’s Computer Science Program as an honors engineering student.
“Working at a national lab the summer before I start college is such a wonderful experience. I’m learning what working in the professional world is like and how to collaborate with other people on complex projects. Plus, the chance to have firsthand experience with the resources here, especially the supercomputers, is an incredible opportunity.”
Mark Mudrick received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Villanova University and is currently pursuing a PhD in computational physics at the University of Georgia. Though he arrived in the 300+ crowd of eager interns on campus this summer, Mark was already a recognizable face within the halls of the OLCF. Working again with his mentor, computational scientist Markus Eisenbach, Mark focuses on combined molecular and spin dynamics simulations.
“Basically, our work revolves around describing and illustrating the motion of a group of particles,” Mudrick said. “In our case, we are looking at metals, how particles move within the metals, and more specifically, analyzing how impurities affect the magnetic properties of materials.”
Thanks to these simulations, researchers can take a closer look at how defects in metals behave when materials are used in projects such as the building of fusion reactors. In his experience as an intern working on this project, Mark has had the opportunity to shape his PhD dissertation with the resources available to him within the OLCF.
“The knowledge base here is so deep. Any question I could ever possible have, someone here knows the answer to it, or at least knows the right direction to point me in,” Mudrick said. “As far as my academic development goes, this is a really intense but immensely rewarding environment.”
A total of 22 students are currently serving as interns at the OLCF: Aaron Barlow, Daniel Barry, Cade Brown, Ahana Roy Choudhury, Gregory Croisdale, Joshua Cunningham, Swapnil Desai, Evan Fann, Alfred Farris, Rachel Harken, Kratika Jain, Harsh Khetawat, Ben Klein, Hannah Klion, Justin Lietz, Seth Maxwell, Jacob McDaniel, Mark Mudrick, Christopher Muzyn, Joanna Reed, Jeremy Rogers, and Jake Wynne.
The OLCF is a DOE Office of Science User Facility located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 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.