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SLAC Launches PPA Scientific Computing Applications Department

Members of the Particle Physics and Astrophysics Scientific Computing Applications department celebrate the launch of their new department. (Photo courtesy Steffen Luitz.)

Last Thursday, nearly two dozen new members of the Particle Physics and Astrophysics Scientific Computing Applications department gathered in Building 84 to celebrate the launch of their new department.

"SLAC has very strong scientific computing capabilities," said David MacFarlane, director of SLAC's Particle Physics and Astrophysics directorate. "By merging the HEP computing applications capabilities within PPA and those that were administratively housed in the computing division, we have created a professional center that will enhance our ability to support both anticipated new HEP projects and eventually photon science experiments with their upcoming data management tasks."

Previously, much of the scientific computing expertise in PPA was spread across many groups, including the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the BaBar collaboration, GEANT4 and ATLAS. The new department brings scientific computing experts together in one department, where they can share ideas and provide leadership and support for projects that require complex data analysis applications.

"SLAC has quite a lot of talent on various large projects; the idea of the PPA Scientific Computing Applications department is to consolidate this expertise," said PPA Scientific Computing Applications department head Richard Dubois. "As SLAC replaces its large PPA projects with many smaller ones, the department will proactively approach the smaller projects and reuse a lot of the existing expertise and technology. That way we're not reinventing the wheel each time. The department also provides a communications path to the Computing Division and scientific computing efforts in other science directorates."

Although the new department will focus on PPA projects, it won't be limited to PPA applications. For example, Dubois said it is likely that the department can help with detector simulation for the Linac Coherent Light Source, building on experience from the generic linear collider detector R&D work. "We're always looking for more opportunities to collaborate, not just within PPA but also within all of SLAC—and beyond," said Technical Coordinator Tony Johnson. "We hope people working on existing projects or thinking about new experiments will come talk to us. And we hope they will come early in their projects, so we can bring our expertise to their project early on."

Dubois said this is an area he looks forward to expanding at the lab. "It can be very useful for those running new projects to hear that there are scientific computing potholes you can step into, this is how other experiments have avoided doing that, and this is the standard practice in the field. After discussing that, we can move on and consider the project's special needs."

Members of the new department are currently spread out in offices across the lab; in the coming months, as SLAC reorganizes office space, the department will begin to co-locate.

"As we start this new department, we also want to make sure that we don’t break anything," said deputy department head Anders Borgland. "So we're taking it one step at a time."

—Kelen Tuttle
SLAC Today, April 7, 2010