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Feature - SC09 redux

SC09 redux


The SciNet team prepares for the grand opening of the Exhibition floor at SC09, while journalists receive a quick tour of the exhibition hall. Photo by Miriam Boon.

Last week, about 11,000 people flooded Portland, Oregon to discuss the latest developments in supercomputing at SC09.

For the opening keynote, Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner introduced attendees to the 3D web. “It’s time to apply all of our High Performance Computing skills to the development, standardization and use of the 3D web,” said Rattner. “Nothing is more important to the long-term health of the HPC industry.”

Highlights of Rattner’s talk included an introduction to OpenSimulator and ScienceSim. OpenSimulator is an application server for 3D environments, and ScienceSim is a grid running OpenSimulator, dedicated to scientific applications. To demonstrate how these Second Life-like simulations could be scientifically useful, Rattner showed the audience FernLand. Conceived by Utah State University graduate student Aaron Duffy, FernLand is an attempt to simulate both the lifecycle and population genetics of ferns.

Other demos during Rattner’s keynote included a discussion of 3D fashion simulations, accurate simulations of the draping of cloth, and an audiovisual simulation of a babbling brook, generated using computational physics.

Although Rattner put on a good show, audience reaction was mixed. Twitter user simonmcs’ question, “Am I the only one who’s not convinced the ‘3D web’ is the next HPC killer app?” prompted several audience members to pipe up with their own doubts.

The Wednesday plenary was given by Lee Hood from the Institute for Systems Biology, who spoke on the emergence of predictive, personalized, preventive and participatory (P4) medicine, which is closely coupled with high-performance and high-throughput computing.

“The medicine of the future will be information-based,” said Hood.

Attendees view a 3D rendering of a skull at the Indiana University booth shortly after the grand opening of the exhibition hall. Photo by Miriam Boon

In spite of Hood’s status as a plenary speaker, his talk was somewhat anticlimactic in the face of the previous days’ Masterworks session, which featured Deepak Singh of Amazon and David Haussler from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Singh gave a summary of the computing needs of biology – and what they could mean for the future of medicine. Haussler addressed the potential of high-performance computing to reconstruct our evolutionary history.

The final keynote was given by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, on the topic of computing, energy and climate change. Audience response was largely positive. Cameron Kiddle, from the University of Calgary, the Grid Research Center, and WestGrid, wrote on Twitter, “Enjoyed the keynote by Al Gore at #SC09. He is a very good speaker – humorous at times and serious at times.”

There were, inevitably, a few naysayers. Twitter user Supercomputin09 wrote, “Whew. So, Al gives us a one and a half hour advertisement for his business mixed with weak jokes and vague aphorisms.”

As always, the exhibition floor was a colorful display of the latest in supercomputing and related fields -- more than we can tell in this space. If you want more on SuperComputing, then check out our SC09 event page, or visit the SC10 page to get a head start on planning for next year’s conference.

Miriam Boon, iSGTW

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