“The Barcelona Supercomputing Center can do a great deal for the new small businesses, which are the companies of the future”


Interview with MATEO VALERO
Director of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center – Centro Nacional de Supercomputación


“The Severo Ochoa Award has been a major “shot in the arm” for multidisciplinary research”


The Barcelona Supercomputing Center - Centro Nacional de Supercomputación was created in 2005 as a consortium between the Spanish Government, the Catalonia Regional Government (Generalitat) and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia). It is one of the centres with the Severo Ochoa Award which are participating in the “100Xciencia” forum where its director, Mateo Valero, will present his thoughts about the present and future of science and of the research centre which he directs.

With respect to the Severo Ochoa Award, from his point of view “For the Barcelona Computing Centre it has been a “shot in the arm” for multidisciplinary research, it has reinforced our national relations, and has made us reorganize all the material used for  the training of researchers” and he adds that “The resources provided have been used to improve many aspects of our internal organization which are basic if we want to continue being leaders in our sector”.

The director admits that the BSC is a very young centre which has undergone rapid growth, going from 50 members to almost 450. For that reason we “need to provide cohesion to the various research groups, which up to then had been growing and working with different rhythms” says Valero. “We have established channels of internal communication and coordination (seminars, coffee breaks, retreats, regular meetings, etc.)which have become very useful ways to spread different forms of knowledge among our own researchers, so that collaborations emerge between them. This has had very positive effects for each group and for each researcher, because they have all enhanced their knowledge, and also for the centre as a whole, because it has given an impulse to cohesion and to multidisciplinary work.  

The BSC is unique in that some departments specialize in research in the applications of high level computing technology, while the biggest department is dedicated to research in the technology itself (computer architecture, programming etc.) and which is a department of reference at world level. “We have found" adds Valero “that increasing coordination among the various research groups, and changing their rhythms, which is not easy, ends up by bettering the results of each of them”.

“With the Severo Ochoa, we have also restructured the tasks of training in high level computing, both in short term specialized courses, such as Masters’ and Doctorates, and we have strengthened the division of human resources (by introducing a career plan, whose objectives are  training and evaluation of individuals) and we have also obtained the HR Excellence in Research certificate, emphasized the director of the BSC.

In the field of international relations this centre has always collaborated with centres all over the world but in addition, during these recent years we have joined high level consortia and associations such as the Joint Laboratory on Extreme-Scale Computing (JLESC),the Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BEDEC),and the project Pancancer.It has maintained its membership in the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE), and we are members of six of the eight centers of excellence in high level computation under the auspices of the European Commission, and we are the coordinators of one of them.   

“To recap” he concludes, “I think we taken big steps forward in internal cooperation, in interdisciplinary research, in support for young researchers, in training, in communication, in the flexibility and the international dimension of the centre all of which, if carefully supervised, end up having very positive effects on competitivity”.

This centre has a unique characteristic because of its double mission:  to carry out frontier research in high level computing and its applications, and to offer services to the international scientific and industrial communities. “This gives us great power as a centre” comments Valero “but it makes our life much more complicated because we have to take in two very different types of activities. Up to now we have managed to do it, and I think we will be able to continue, but we need the right tools to be able to plan in the medium and long term, with stable sources of funding. We are competing at top level, but with fewer resources than our competitors: the US, Japan, China, Germany, who can work in much more favourable conditions”.

According to Valero the BSC is recognized “at international level, because we have had a significant influence in computational technology in the last few years, which is now in a research phase, and which will be adopted in the near future. We want to maintain this capacity in an industrial and research environment which is more and more complex, giving options which we believe to offer the greatest benefits. We have gone a long way to identify and prioritize the areas which are of the greatest interest (in computer architecture, in Big Data, in cognitive computation, and tools to evaluate and improve the performance of codes) we are very well situated and we want to maintain this position.

Popularization and communication are essential in this research centre, and for this reason, apart from the activities of internal communication which I mentioned previously, we make a big effort to popularize in three areas: to the general public, to the more specialized public, and to companies.

“For the specialists we have increased our training courses in high level computations. For the general public I should stress that we are often present in national and international communication media, a presence which has increased in the past four years, and the thousands of visitors we receive per year to see and know about our MareNostrum supercomputer”. The director of the centre reminds us that the major part of these visitors are high school students “so I consider that this is a constant wager in favour of the future of research”. He adds than “we aim to bring science to the young people, and make them feel participants, and proud of the research which is being carried on around them (in computation, in genetics, in subjects related to health, in the environment, and in engineering), because it is one way of saying ‘you can do it yourselves too’”.

Mateo Valero explains that they do a lot of work to communicate with companies in their surroundings. “I think that this is our biggest challenge. At the moment we have important agreements to collaborate with major companies, notably with TIC (IBM, Intel, CISCO, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Samsung) and in the energy sector (REPSOL, Iberdrola). We want to be able to get close to real company work via, above all, the smaller companies, the firms of the future, which will be essential for the competitivity of the European economy. We think that we can do a lot for them, and we want to do so. It is important to build bridges with the companies in our surroundings and to be able to identify those which can benefit from our tools, our abilities, and our technological know-how”.


Coordination of interviews: Verónica Martín


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100xCIENCIA Communicating Frontier Science. La Palma (Canary Islands, Spain), October 2015
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