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High Performance Computing (HPC) at Wake Forest has been a University staple for more than two decades, and the HPC Team oversees the DEAC Cluster, Wake Forest University’s HPC system. 14 departments and over 500 researchers utilize the cluster daily. Training and tutorial sessions have been a regular duty of the HPC Team since the DEAC Cluster’s inception. After years of increased curiosity and high demand from student researchers, the HPC team noted the need for further Cluster instruction at Wake Forest. Seven years ago, a collaboration with the Computer Science department led to the creation of a Special Topics course which would expand upon that duty. 

HPC in the Classroom

The HPC team offers CSC191: Intro to HPC every Spring semester enrolling up to 20 undergraduate students. The course delves into interdisciplinary applications of HPC; from foundational command line skills and basic interaction with HPC systems, to advanced process parallelization. After completing the course, many students go on to apply their new experience towards undergraduate research. Some have gone on to earn Wake Forest University URECA research grants. Others credited the course with helping them land internships at prestigious companies and acceptance into competitive graduate programs.

HPC on the Road: The Student Cluster Competition 

For a select group of students, their HPC journey continues by taking part in the Student Cluster Competition (SCC), an international event that is part of the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis, the world’s largest HPC conference. Up to six students are selected to represent WFU as a team, and if selected, the HPC Team mentors them in the summer and fall leading up to the competition. 

In the Fall of 2023, the HPC team led a group of five enthusiastic students to the IndySCC, the virtual, cloud-based version of the SCC. The Wake Forest University “Daemon Deacon” Team had to learn to use scientific software and carry out many difficult calculations and simulations, all while managing their own cloud-based cluster, and completing the tasks within specified constraints and limitations. These students, Konghao Zhao, Zongyue Teng, Andrea Jiang, Mario Satriale, and Nicole Sung, worked arduously during the months leading up to the competition.

Daemon Deacon competitors.

Zhao, shared his thoughts on the collaborative aspects of the competition, saying, “I have learned [how important it is] to cooperate with people from different backgrounds and [to] accept ideas from different angles. During the competition, one needs to efficiently communicate with others and distribute the tasks.” 

The team attended several webinars together, completed homework projects, delegated learning tasks, shared lessons learned, and used the DEAC Cluster regularly to hone their skills.

The final phase of the IndySCC was a 48-hour window in which the team completed four assignments, including a mystery application that was only revealed after the start of the competition. Students worked in shifts around the clock to spin-up and configure systems, submit calculations, and monitor usage.

“During the competition, I learned about the practical applications of HPC and saw directly its power in biomedical and climate research. A key takeaway was the importance of teamwork and collaboration in addressing complex computational problems,” says Teng.

Post IndySCC celebrations.

Passionate Learning: The Teacher-Scholar Ideal 

The entire experience was a celebration of collaboration, highlighting each student’s passion for learning, showcasing skills they worked diligently to acquire. In the end, the Wake Forest “Daemon Deacons” team emerged as true competitors, finishing fourth overall, and first among US-based teams. The students – most of whom will be graduating this spring – will leave Wake Forest with a unique experience added to their collegiate experience. The HPC Team will start the process again soon, the application window is now open for SCC24, and they will be selecting a new group of students to compete with a hopeful eye toward repeating the success of the 2023 team.