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A high-performance summer

CISL internships give students a taste of cutting-edge computing

by Marijke Unger, NCAR/CISL


SIParCS interns, from left to right: Ryan O'Kuinghttons (Colorado School of Mines, or CSM), Victor Snyder (CSM), Kenny Gruchalla (University of Colorado at Boulder, or CU), Michael Levy (CU), Arunasalam Rahuynanthan (University of Wyoming), Matthew Norman (North Carolina State University), and Robert House (CU). (Photo courtesy CISL.)

A new internship program at NCAR's Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL) is being described by participants and mentors alike as a success. The 2007 inaugural Summer Internships in Parallel Computational Science (SIParCS) program generated publication-quality research, improvements in grid coupling and visualization applications, and collaborative relationships with other research institutions.

SIParCS, designed for graduate students and incoming seniors, is the result of a collective recognition within CISL of the need to train the next generation of high-performance computer scientists, applied mathematicians, and engineers. CISL's goals for the program include developing a pool of prospective new employees—an objective met with the hire of one of the interns, Ryan O'Kuinghttons, the newest member of the Earth System Modeling Framework team.

"Talent, interest, relevant skills, and good mentors are the winning formula for a program like SIParCS. We had motivated candidates and enthusiastic mentors," says Richard Loft, CISL's director of technology development. "The challenge was finding projects that were interesting to the students and achievable in a summer and that could also have a positive impact on the work we do."

Matthew Norman interned with CISL's Institute for Mathematics in the Geosciences (IMAGe). Norman, who is working on his master's degree at North Carolina State University, explored a class of numerical methods called inherently conservative nonpolynomial remappings. He's now writing a journal paper that his SIParCS mentor is confident will be published.

Students from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Colorado School of Mines worked on visualization projects. Kenny Gruchalla and Victor Snyder extended the capabilities of VAPoR, the Visualization and Analysis Platform for Ocean, Atmosphere, and Solar Researchers, for use in spherical geometry and in the non-uniform vertical coordinate systems of meteorological models.

Both students and mentors gave positive feedback about the program. One student described SIParCS as "the most valuable and enjoyable work experience I've ever had." And from a student advisor: "I know that my student was very happy with the program. Moreover, his research … was good for my group as well."

The summer internships run 10 to 12 weeks, typically June through August. Program requirements, beyond working on projects, include keeping a research journal, attending appropriate technical seminars, participating in skills-enhancing workshops, and giving an oral presentation of results at the end of the summer.

There are two tracks in SIParCS, one for computer science and another for parallel application research and development. Students interested in high-performance computing operations or applied computer science activities are matched with a SIParCS mentor and a project proposed by CISL staff. On the latter track, students with geoscience-related applied mathematics research or application development plans may submit their own summer research proposals.

In 2008, CISL will synchronize application deadlines and share recruitment procedures for SIParCS with programs such as UCAR's Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science ( Given the success of the pilot program this year, CISL plans to broaden the candidate pool by running an open solicitation for all SIParCS positions in 2008.

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