From small rocks to giant computers
Hi! So you’re probably wondering why I, a guy who spent the last three years mostly looking at rocks, is now here playing around with the UK’s new national supercomputer? Well, I’m happy to tell you all about that…
But first a little bit about myself. My name is Jonas, I’m originally from Bavaria in Germany but am now in my third year studying geophysics at the Imperial College in London.
My interests in science lie with impact craters around the solar system, the changing environment right here on Earth and how we can use modelling to understand both better.
When I’m not fretting over school work, I like to spend my time watching fast cars go in circles in Formula 1, play Dungeons and Dragons for hours on end with my friends or go hiking if the British weather ever permits it.
As a teenager, I didn’t know what I would later want to do in life. I was interested in all sorts of things, from history and sports to science, everything seemed cool to me. But that changed when I took a year abroad to the US, where I took my first geology course. Learning how you could figure out what a place might have looked like millions of years ago, just by looking at features in the rocks there today fascinated me and I became obsessed with geology. So I applied to Imperial College London and was fortunate enough to get a place at the Earth Science and Engineering department there to pursue an MSci in Geology.
Early in first year though, my interest changed from looking at the actual rocks to the ‘bigger picture’, the Earths ocean and atmosphere interacting across the globe, entire continents moving around and giant meteor crashing into planets suddenly seemed so much more exciting and so I switched to do Geophysics.
Before university, I barely knew how to turn my laptop on and CPUs or GPUs only mattered when it came to gaming, but my new direction towards geophysics led me to learn how to. From the first course onwards I enjoyed it, especially seeing the intersection between the computing world and natural sciences excited me.
Because of this, I did a research internship at Imperial in my second year, looking at how clusters of impact craters form from larger meteors fragmenting in Mars’ atmosphere. Seeing how the models influenced our search for patterns and vice versa was exciting and I wanted to learn more about modelling in and of itself. So for next year, my master thesis is going to model how the chemistry in rivers changes across the Clyde Basin in Scotland with the hopes of being able to figure out where pollutants are introduced into the water.
Now you might ask yourself how all of this leads to PRACE and the Summer of HPC and that is a good question. I found out about this program through a professor at university and at first was hesitant to apply since it seemed way too advanced for me. But the projects sounded interesting and so I applied afterall in the hopes to be able to challenge myself, learn about the pinnacle of computing power and understand the background of how some of these large models actually work that I so often just read the results from.
I got accepted and will work with Carla Schoder on the MPAS atmosphere model at the EPCC. Sadly we won’t be able to taste test a deep-fried mars bar in Edinburgh, as the entire program iis remote. But I’m still excited about the project and to work with new and interesting people.
So what’s next for me? Well, last week we finished an intense training week and now I actually know what a supercomputer is and how to operate one. We will work together to figure out how to best test MPAS and then get to play around with it on ARCHER2, the UK’s new national supercomputer. I will of course keep you updated here with all the cool stuff we’ll be doing and I’m learning, so stay tuned.