Team SA scoops second prize at global supercomputing challenge

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South Africa’s student team scooped second prize at this year’s International Student Cluster Competition hosted by the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC).

Regarded as the world's premier high-performance computing competition for students, the event is held annually in Frankfurt, Germany. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s challenge took place online from 22 to 25 June.

Represented by six undergraduate students, team SA was made up of Guy Axelrod, Victoria Bench, Michael Beukman, Sivenathi Madlokazi, Mikhail Vink and Kalreen Govender, with Stephanie Agenbag as the reserve member.

The team progressed to the international round after winning the national round at the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) national conference in Johannesburg in December.

The South African team’s win at the international competition marked another win for the country, which has a proud history at the event, having participated seven times and made it onto the podium every time, according to a statement.

The country has taken first prize on three occasions, placed second three times and third once.

“The team fielded by the CHPC were among 82 university students from 11 countries who spent almost a month working feverishly on a cluster located at the National Supercomputing Centre of Singapore in a bid to win the overall prize.

“This year's competition was designed to contribute to the global fight against COVID‑19, and included applications addressing education and applied learning towards accelerating bioscience research and discovery. The teams were tasked with testing several applications that are being used by scientists and researchers in their search for a cure for the coronavirus.”

During the competition, which participants described as incredibly intense, the teams vied to obtain the greatest performance across a series of benchmarks and applications, reads the statement.

“For the students to spend almost a month on the competition shows the extent of their dedication, and the team, along with their mentors from the CHPC, are to be congratulated.

“The efforts put in by the team and the CHPC, and the challenges they faced, reflect the real-life scenario currently being experienced by South Africa's National Integrated Cyber Infrastructure System, as it works to ensure the availability of high-performance computing resources in support of the national response to COVID-19, and to address issues of connectivity to enhance online learning.”

Since 2011, the ISC has been focused on introducing science, technology, engineering and mathematics students to the world of possibilities that is high-performance computing, while helping to develop critical skills that students will use long after completing their studies.

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