Not too long ago, supercomputers were rare, hugely expensive, and associated mostly with military applications, like simulating nuclear weapons tests. Exports were tightly controlled. Now, powerful machines with names like Frontera and Ada are widely used not just in scientific experiments but for a variety of research that requires analysis of large volumes of data. And as their use expands, a new engineering field is emerging under the radar, one that’s already playing an important role in scientific discovery. It’s composed of experts in high-performance computing who assist researchers in a variety of domains. Sometimes they’re able to point out areas to explore that the researchers haven’t thought about. Called research facilitators, cyberinfrastructure (CI) facilitators, or CI professionals, “they usually happen upon this occupation through some idiosyncratic set of events and find a role in the CI enterprise,” write the authors of a paper presented recently at a PEARC (Practice and Experience in Advanced Research Computing) conference. Currently, they have little recognition and universities haven’t figured out where they fit in among various job titles and pay scales. But demand for them is strong, both in academe and industry, and serious efforts are underway to provide them with a career path, as our cover story explains.
ASEE’s new President Stephanie Adams is no shrinking violet, as you’ll discover in the profile by Pierre Home-Douglas on Page 28 and her first letter to members on Page 44. She’s intent on unifying the Society’s various constituencies and on improving graduate education. Adams’s presidency coincides with her new job as engineering dean at the University of Texas–Dallas. Both her letter and a separate item in the ASEE Today section spell out a series of proposed amendments to ASEE’s Constitution that will be put before members early next year.
A pair of blackouts in New York City this summer illustrates the strain on parts of the nation’s electricity grid. The FREEDM (for Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management) Systems Center at North Carolina State University has come up with a breakthrough response to the problem. Tom Gibson explains how it works in Power Play, our third feature.
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