LANL Hosts High School Supercomputing Awards

Los Alamos, NM -- More than 200 of New Mexico's youngest supercomputer programmers will gather at the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory on Wednesday, (April 28) to claim scholarships, savings bonds and other prizes at the ninth annual New Mexico High School Supercomputing Challenge awards ceremony.

Nearly 500 students competed in the challenge; about 225 students are expected to be at Los Alamos. Fifty teams, including about a dozen finalist teams, will tour the Los Alamos supercomputers on which they have been running programs all year, show off their skills and hear talks from researchers at Los Alamos.

The students and teachers made up of teams from 43 schools have spent the last year researching scientific problems and writing programs to solve them on supercomputers at Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories.

The goal of the year-long New Mexico High School Supercomputing Challenge is to increase knowledge of science and computing, expose students and teachers to computers and applied mathematics, and instill enthusiasm for science in high school students, their families and communities. Any New Mexico high school student in grades 9-12 is eligible to enter the Challenge.

Unlike other computing competitions, the New Mexico High School Supercomputing Challenge is unique because it offers supercomputer access to students at every level of expertise and stresses student activity over work by teachers and coaches, said David Kratzer of Los Alamos' Customer Service Group.

"The Supercomputing Challenge has touched the lives of more than 4,500 New Mexico students and has influenced career decisions and life directions of many of these students," said Charlie Slocomb, director of the Laboratory's Computing, Information and Communications (CIC) Division. "We are proud that several former participants in the Challenge are now permanent staff members at Los Alamos contributing to our major programs."

During the final judging Tuesday and Wednesday, the teams will be vying for scholarships, savings bonds, trophies and computer equipment for their schools.

Last year, four Las Cruces High School computer aces took home the top prize for their project on how a complex simulation of nerve cells interact. The second place award went to a quartet from the Albuquerque Academy, which devised a program that broke down into prime factors the complex numbers known as Gaussian integers.

The top individual prize last year - a four-year scholarship good for $2,500 a year at any four-year New Mexico college or university - went to Dustin Byford of Las Cruces High School.

A list of this year's student reports can be found at online.

Teams and individual winners will receive their prizes during awards ceremony beginning at 10 a.m. in the Laboratory's Administration Building Auditorium at Technical Area 3. A reception open to the finalists, judges and news media follows in the Santa Clara Gallery on the second floor the J. Robert Oppenheimer Study Center.

The Supercomputing Challenge was conceived in 1990 by former Los Alamos Director Sig Hecker and Tom Thornhill, president of New Mexico Technet Inc., a non-profit company that in 1985 set up a computer network to link the state's national laboratories, universities, state government and some private companies. U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and John Rollwagen, then chairman and chief executive officer of Cray Research Inc. added their support.

The Supercomputing Challenge is sponsored by the Laboratory and New Mexico Technet Inc. Benefactors include: CISCO Systems Inc.; DP Signal; Intel Corp; Kinko's; and Microsoft Corp.

Patrons include: Sandia National Laboratories; University of New Mexico; New Mexico State University; New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; Albuquerque Tribune; SGI; Council for High Education Computing Services (CHECS Inc.); Eastern New Mexico University; New Mexico Highlands University; New Mexico Department of Education; San Juan College; Santa Fe Community College; and the Air Force Research Lab.

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28 Apr 99
Updated by Paul Tevis