The 7th Annual HPC Symposium took place on Wednesday 6th June 2018.  This year’s event saw the largest number of attendees from across the University representing the ever growing user base of Balena, the University's HPC service.  Ten contributed talks and ten posters were complemented with keynote talks, three external and one internal, from Prof. Tina Duren.  Coupled with the intimate setting for this year's event encouraging discussion with poster presenters the pervading feedback was that this one the best in the series bringing together researchers from across disciplines in a way that few University events achieve.

Prof. Steve Parker, Chemistry, and Chair of the HPC Management Group, welcomed attendees talked about the events of the past year.  The recent investment in Balena provides new compute nodes with latest Skylake processors, as well as enhanced GPUs with 7 NVIDIA P100 GPUs and additional storage.  Alongside the imminent delivery of the GW4 Tier-2 HPC, Isambard, these are exciting times for HPC users at Bath.  Researchers in the EPSRC's remit can also access the other machines that make up the Tier-2 network.  Additionally the appointment of a Research Software Engineer will support research software development and provide training across the University.

The Institute for Mathematical Innovation (IMI) had Machine Learning as their semester theme which lead to the decision to  dedicate a session and keynotes to the subject at this year's Symposium.  We were grateful to its Director Prof Jon Dawes to introduce the IMI's work and our keynotes.  Dr Timothy Lanfear of NVIDIA talked about current and emerging GPU devices.  These are well known for their applications in Machine Learning but are also widely used in molecular simulation.   This was followed by an excellent talk from Prof. Giovanni Montana, University of Warwick and Co-I on the Oxford led Tier-2 HPC, Jade based on NVIDIA GPUs.  Giovanni's recent work has focussed on using Machine Learning in bio-imaging, but has found wide-ranging application including interpreting and making prognoses.

After a brief pause for coffee we were back in the machine learning world for a series of talks from researchers at Bath.  Dr Ellen Murphy is a Commercial Research Associate in the IMI and spoke about her project analysing hip X-ray images.  Hip fractures represent a huge cost to the NHS >£1Bn per year but more significantly, high fatality rates.  The work is not only helping to process images but also improve classification of fractures by collating data across NHS Trusts.  Gordon Rennie, from Computer Science also gave a fascinating talk about his work on reinforcement learning which underlies Google recent announcements on AI.    While he plans to use it to fly UAVs, the video of an AI body flailing its way through a virtual obstacle will live long in the memory.

After a lunch poring over posters, we had a talks from students in Biology and Biochemistry, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, alongside Tina Duren's overview of the work of her group.  The talks introduced a range of the molecular simulation that goes on at Bath as well in the case of visualising large datasets, the capability that a central service such as Balena offers users.   Most significantly this session consisted entirely of female presenters.  Diversity in research remains an issue and this is increases in heavily computational work that relies upon HPC so it was encouraging to have a strong representation at the symposium.

The last session of the day saw talks from researchers from Maths and Physics.  While each of the talks introduced the complex maths and algorithms underpinning their work, the speakers did an excellent job of making the methods of their subjects accessible to a general audience.  For the final talk and keynote of the day we welcomed Jess Jones, Cray UK Ltd, and former student at Bath and administrator of Balena's predecessor Aquila.  Jess talked us through the conception and delivery of a Cray supercomputer, illustrated by the MetOffice’s current entries in the TOP500.  With Isambard about to be installed the same hall it was great to see the attention that go into each of their machines.

The day ended with the prize presentations.  Given the impact that computers and technology have had on research practice, particularly in computational research, it is remarkable how little the output has changed.  Certainly talks have become more colourful, but papers and traditional posters have changed little.   But this is changing ... the interest generated by Jack Betteridge, Maths, as visitors swiped their way through his research made him a worthy prize winner for his interactive poster.  Dan Davies, CSCT, won a prize for his talk on his research which uses machine learning for the high throughput screening of potential solar cell materials and Megan Stalker won the prize for best overall contribution for her talk on investigating the potential of using cellulose to store hydrogen.

Prize winners at the HPC Symposium 2018
HPC Symposium winners 2018 (Jack Betteridge, Megan Stalker and Dan Davies)

The day has capped by a reception with drinks and pizza together with further discussion.  One topic that arose on a couple of occasions was that the Symposium wasn’t HPC enough, that is it was about the worked that use Balena rather than more practical talks on how to get the best out of HPC.  As a result we are considering introducing a complementary event consisting of workshops and more practical talks to next year’s symposium.  If this is something that interests you and you would like to attend contribute to please get in touch ( or

Many thanks to all attendees of this year’s event, the keynotes, speakers, poster presenters and session chairs.  Thanks also to hospitality for keeping us going with food and coffee, to Clustervision, suppliers of Balena, who provided the prize for best overall contribution and to co-organisers Dr Gael Donval, Chemical Engineering and Dr Jonathan Skelton, Chemistry for their hard work organising this year’s event.

Posted in: Advancing Research Computing, High Performance Computing (HPC)

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