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High School Students Build Their Own Supercomputer (Almost)

September 10, 2010 - 9:47am

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For the third straight year, students and teachers from around Appalachia gathered at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) this summer for an interactive training with some of the world's leading computing experts.

The focal point of the training was a course called "Build a Supercomputer - Well Almost." And build they did. With guidance from ORNL staff, collaborators and interns, the high-school students went about building a computer cluster, a group of computers communicating with one another to operate as a single machine, out of Mac mini CPUs. While the students' setup obviously did not compute nearly as fast as ORNL's "Jaguar" cluster, which is officially recognized as the world's fastest supercomputer, it still impressed with its ability to run a collection of high-performance software.

Through the program 10 students from various backgrounds and parts of the Appalachia region received a foundation in teamwork, along with the many things that make a supercomputer work, experience that organizers think is invaluable.

"They get to learn HPC [high-performance computing] basics, and it's a chance for them to live on their own for a couple of weeks," said Bobby Whitten, an HPC specialist at ORNL and facilitator of this summer session. ORNL first partnered with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Institute for Science and Mathematics, on a program of this type in 2008. Whitten happily notes that one of his students from that year is heading off to Cornell University in the fall to study biomechanical engineering.

Judging by the talent and enthusiasm displayed by students at this year's camp, that's a success story that will only expand in the years to come.

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