The addition of international computing experts to the NeSI team builds on its existing capabilities for improving science research productivity. NeSI is New Zealand’s national high performance computing (HPC) platform and its director Nick Jones says its nine-person computational science team brings together the largest group of scientific computing specialists ever to support New Zealand research.
“With this team in place, as a sector we can now approach larger challenges in our economy, environment and society, such as those defined in the National Science Challenges,” says Jones.
The enhanced NeSI computational science team is led by Mark Cheeseman. He brings experience and knowledge to the New Zealand research sector from a background in international HPC centres in Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Canada, the US and UK. Cheeseman is joined by team members with scientific programming experience, knowledge of numerical and statistical methods, optimisation techniques for scaling computations and a working knowledge of specialised HPC computing systems.
NeSI’s HPC services now include a more focused computational science capability, which international scientists say is essential to researchers. Professor Peter Hunter, a globally recognised leader in computational physiology, anticipates significant benefits to the NZ science and engineering research and development community. He says NeSI’s computational science initiative is a critical discipline for an innovation-led economy based on fundamental scientific research. “Our ability to predict the properties of the complex, composite materials used in the manufacture of many new products depends very much on multi-scale modelling and high performance computing.”
A possible application for NeSI’s HPC capabilities is tissue engineering for implanted medical devices. Computational design is employed to create 3D-printed scaffolds, into which cells can be seeded to make replacement bone and skin tissues. “The computational science expertise made available to the NZ science and engineering R&D community through this initiative will be invaluable,” adds Professor Hunter.
Cheeseman and the NeSI team are optimising the performance of specific research tasks, contributing their understanding of specialised computing algorithms and methods. “Programming to scale across large numbers of CPUs is hard, yet is quickly becoming required across many fields of research.” says Cheeseman. “Programming with distributed memory is harder. Understanding the challenges within each separate research community requires years of exposure and collaboration. Why would we bother doing this? Because solving this complexity enables us to tackle problems with increased accuracy and significance.”
Professor Ian Foster, an expat Kiwi and internationally recognised computer scientist, welcomes the announcement by highlighting the significance of software to scientific exchange. “As science becomes increasingly computational, software emerges as both essential tool and new medium of scientific exchange. The new indigenous capability provided by this team will both give New Zealand researchers access to the software they need to succeed and spur the development of a culture of free exchange of open computer software.”
Another focus for the new team is reviewing the many projects run on NeSI’s HPC platform since its commissioning in early 2012. The NeSI team has already identified several strategic research community needs, problems and related software codes for early collaboration – a proactive approach to identifying the research sector’s capability needs that’s a first for New Zealand.