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School of Science Students Participate in HPC Bootcamp at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

TCNJ’s School of Science maintains its commitment to supporting students throughout their undergraduate education, utilizing innovative teaching and research capabilities to build a strong, well-rounded, and interest-driven academic foundation. Students at TCNJ have the opportunity to participate actively in faculty-mentored research initiatives, utilizing The College’s state-of-the-art facilities to conduct graduate-level research at the undergraduate level. These innovative teaching practices, placing a distinct emphasis on student’s individualized academic interests, have opened doors for students to gain firsthand, hands-on experiences within their fields.

Participating in mentored undergraduate research opportunities at The College is a valuable, hands-on learning experience that is available to students throughout the academic year, as well as during the summer term. In addition to The TCNJ School of Science’s wide variety of internal, mentored research opportunities, TCNJ houses a wide variety of unique research and lab facilities that are encouraged for student use.

Among the wide variety of unique research facilities and capabilities at TCNJ, students and faculty have access to ELSA (the Electronic Laboratory for Science and Analysis) which is TCNJ’s heterogeneous High-Performance Computing (HPC) cluster. ELSA’s resources are currently comprised of over 113 servers, providing 2,080 central processing unit (CPU) cores, 84 graphics processing units (GPUs), and approximately two petabytes of network-based storage. The cluster is housed in a dedicated Scientific Computing Center in TCNJ’s STEM Building and is managed by HPC System Administrator, Mr. Shawn Sivy.

“ With four hundred times the computing power of a regular desktop, TCNJ’s HPC cluster is configured to model the industry standard. So, as students progress in their fields within different industries or academic settings, they are equipped with the tools necessary to use HPC systems. What they are learning here today can directly translate to their future career goals,” Mr. Sivy explained.

While TCNJ offers students an incredible array of research opportunities, it is relatively well-known that new academic and lab environments can appear intimidating to new students who might be interested in pursuing research. Computational Chemistry Professor, Dr. Joseph Baker, explains how he tries to mitigate this very common misconception by engaging new students in smaller, more manageable tasks early in their undergraduate experience.

Discussing the impact of undergraduate research opportunities on students’ experiences, Dr. Baker, explained, “I and other faculty members as well, are looking to engage students in research earlier and earlier in their time at TCNJ. We know that student engagement in research experiences has such a powerful impact on things like success, retention, finding a sense of belonging, and developing a student’s academic identity.”

Dr. Baker continued, “One of the very first things I try to do in our group is try to get students over the fear of actually doing it. By making the work more manageable and accessible, students are able to refine their skills at a comfortable pace, often seeking mentorship from myself as well as from one another.”

This past summer, Iknoor (Noor) Kaur Grewal, a junior American Chemical Society (ACS) Certified Chemistry Major, and Skyler Keyek, a sophomore Physics major, were both able to apply their skills and knowledge developed within TCNJ’s School of Science in attending the High-Performance Computing (HPC) Bootcamp at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (NERSC) in Berkeley, California.

The five-day-long boot camp is designed to provide undergraduate and graduate students a side-by-side, collaborative research experience where they have the opportunity to gain hands-on experiences utilizing HPC, specifically to better understand energy justice initiatives. This immersive program allows students to work on energy justice projects of their interest in a group setting while learning the fundamentals of HPC, including parallel computing, job scheduling, and data analysis techniques.

At TCNJ, Noor and Skyler both actively conduct research within The School of Science. Noor participates in Dr. Joseph Baker’s computational chemistry lab which researches both theoretical and computational approaches to understand the structure, function, and dynamics of biomolecular systems. Skyler actively participates in Dr. Mariah MacDonald’s physics lab, which researches exoplanets, habitability, astrobiology, and the dynamics of planetary systems.

When Noor’s research advisor, Dr. Baker, reached out to her encouraging her to apply to the HPC Bootcamp at the Berkeley National Lab last semester she, just like many other students do, felt a sense of excitement mixed with a bit of trepidation.

“I thought it would be a cool opportunity, but initially I didn’t really think I’d have a chance. Being at Berkeley seemed a bit intimidating, but once I learned more about it and discussed it with Dr. Baker, it seemed like a great opportunity because I found that it was more for students who had just begun using HPC, so they wanted to help broaden our knowledge on the subject,” Noor explained.

Upon arriving at the boot camp, meeting with group members, and touring the National Lab’s cutting-edge facilities, Noor and Skyler both quickly realized the collaboration and education-centered focus of the experience. Each attendee was able to participate in a designated research project with an assigned National Lab advisor, seeking to analyze and use HPC data to help solve energy justice-related issues.

Noor’s group project sought to use geospatial data to analyze and predict seasonal temperature trends and the effects of climate change during the beginning, middle, and end of the century.

Discussing the collaborative nature of her group, Noor explained, “ It was really cool to see how different people bring different ideas from differing perspectives into our group, and being at the National lab, it is sort of an overarching idea there.”

“It’s all about the team science,” she says. “Each person is responsible for being an expert in their field, then you bring it to the table in a collaborative way. It was an incredibly inspiring environment.”

Skyler’s research group investigated how HPC Center locations impact local energy costs and burdens and were even able to display a correlation in the analysis of their results. With students and academics hailing from around the country, from all different academic backgrounds and institutions, Skyler also discussed the valuable networking opportunities made available to student attendees throughout this experience.

“It was definitely a great networking opportunity because we got to stay at the facilities all day and the national lab staff members from Chicago, California, and Tennessee who attended, ate breakfast and lunch with us, discussing our particular academic interests and goals for the future,” Skyler explained.

Reflecting on the value of their experiences, “The boot camp was a valuable learning opportunity for many reasons, but the three biggest takeaways for me were helping to develop my HPC skills, networking skills, presentation skills, and problem-solving skills. It was an excellent experience, ” Skyler noted.

Noor emphasized, “ This was an incredible opportunity and I hope other students see my experience as an opportunity to potentially pursue something similar as well and broaden their perspectives.”

TCNJ’s School of Science stands as a beacon of innovation and opportunity for undergraduate students. Through faculty-mentored research initiatives and access to cutting-edge resources like ELSA, TCNJ’s High-Performance Computing cluster, students are not only equipped with essential skills but also nurtured in an environment that fosters their growth and confidence.

The experiences Noor and Skyler shared attending the HPC Bootcamp at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab are shining examples of how TCNJ empowers its students to explore new horizons and collaborate on impactful research projects. As we celebrate their success, we look forward to more students embracing such transformative experiences, realizing their potential, and making meaningful contributions to the world of science and research. TCNJ’s commitment to nurturing academic curiosity and cultivating a sense of belonging continues to inspire the next generation of scientists and scholars.

Written by School of Science Student Journalist, Jax DiEugenio


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