An Interview with Dr. Peter Arzberger: Friend and Collaborator of NCHC
Dr. Peter Arzberger has been a very good friend of the NCHC for a long while now. Our relationship with Peter started many years ago when the NCHC first joined the Pacific Rim Application and Grid Middleware Assembly (PRAGMA), of which Peter is the Founding Chair, and has blossomed ever since. The NCHC has had many collaborations with Peter and the PRAGMA community including our participation in the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) of which Peter is a founding member of the Steering Committee.
We decided to in this, our latest e-newsletter, to take some time to get to know our good friend, Peter, better and on a more personal level. Peter agreed to grant us this in-depth interview that takes a closer look at both his personal and professional life as well as the efforts he’s worked on with the NCHC. Join us as we take a look at this intriguing man and examine the work he’s done for the Asia Pacific HPC community and the NCHC.
Tell us a little bit about yourself: your background (i.e. personal and professional), your hobbies, etc.
Experiences from early life are building blocks for future professional developments in interests. For example, my thesis, motivated by a population biology question, required computing for insights and mathematics for solution. The interface of three areas, mathematical, computational, and biological sciences, is where I have spent my professional life, with emphasis shifting one way or the other over time. Professionally, I have worked in faculty positions in departments of mathematics and statistics, in a federal government granting agency as a program officer (National Science Foundation, NSF) in mathematics, and later, computational biology as well. I have also worked in leadership roles in a large supercomputing organization and as the head of large projects that combine mathematics, computing, and biology.
By the year 1999, I began to consider the possibility of working in an international setting, first in the area of ecology, and later in that of computing and grid technologies. In part, working internationally was conceivable to me since I had spent a junior year in my undergraduate life as an exchange student in Germany. Early 2001 was a turning point for me. I was privileged to participate in the assessment of applications to host the secretariat of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), which allowed me to understand that distance was much less a barrier than had been thought previously. I was able to see developments in Asia that had researchers from Korea, Japan, and Taiwan attempting to collaborate and build interoperable resources. Finally, after much encouragement from a good friend and colleague of mine at NSF who kept insisting that I should take advantage of my location in San Diego, as part of the supercomputing facility, I decided to try to build ties with other high-performance institutions around the Pacific Rim.
This background, along with colleagues from the University of California San Diego and their colleagues around the Pacific Rim, allowed us to organize and then develop the Pacific Rim Application and Grid Middleware Assembly (PRAGMA), the focus of which is on building sustainable collaborations and advancing grid technologies through applications. PRAGMA proved to be a framework to launch other activities (i.e. GLEON and PRIME) and to bring synergy to other activities. In particular, PRAGMA became a very useful bridge between the needs of the Pacific Rim community concerned with the Avian Flu outbreak and the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Research Resources (NIH/NCRR) project that National Biomedical Computation Resource (NBCR). NBCR is a mix of the mathematical, computational, and biomedical sciences to conduct, catalyze, and enable biomedical research by harnessing forefront computational and information technologies focusing on targeted translational and multiscale challenges. To the benefit of both projects, PRAGMA created an Avian Flu Grid that links NIH/NCRR to NBCR.
In my spare time, I enjoy reading about history and mystery novels, baking, and watching movies, and sharing these pastimes with my daughter. At other points in my life, I have restored Volkswagen engines (out of necessity) and Lloyds engines (as a hobby). I also carve masks. As an aside, I had almost studied folklore as a graduate student, based on the experiences I had as a student in Germany. That interest in other cultures found an outlet in my collecting masks from around the world, and in particular, from the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada. Carving masks gave me an appreciation for quality work. My interest in culture is also satisfied by PRAGMA. When hosting the PRAGMA workshops, we see or experience something unique culturally.
Working together for a better tomorrow
What was THE motivation behind organizing PRAGMA?
PRAGMA began with the following observations: global science communities were emerging in increasing numbers, grid software had entered its second phase of implementation, and international networks were expanding rapidly in capacity as fundamental high-speed enablers for data and video communication. But, the integration and productive use of these potential tools was “out of reach” to many scientists. To address the issue of making this technology routinely accessible, a founding set of Pacific Rim Institutions began to work together to share ideas, challenges, software, and possible end-to-end solutions.
Peter giving his HPC Asia 2009 keynote speech entitled "Advancing Knowledge through HPC for the Benefit of Society"
Can you share with us some of your most memorable experiences in PRAGMA?
This is a difficult question to respond to, since there are so many memorable experiences, in starting PRAGMA, in having a community form, in launching new collaborations, in experiencing the richness of cultures present in PRAGMA, and in watching PRAGMA mature and individuals within PRAGMA succeed in their careers.
Even before we had the initial set of funds from the National Science Foundation to launch PRAGMA at a first workshop in San Diego, we had agreements from both KISTI in Korea and AIST and Osaka University in Japan to host PRAGMA 2 and 3 in Seoul and Fukuoka respectively. These three meetings set the tone and structure for building PRAGMA into a strong collaborative framework. Walking down a major street in Seoul, and seeing the PRAGMA 2 Workshop announced, was amazing to me (and I dare say to many of the participants) at the extent of hope that PRAGMA would bring and the respect for international visitors and colleagues. Further, the blend of local culture (including food) into the workshop has created a tradition that brings us together as a community.
One key event that really focused PRAGMA members occurred in late spring of 2003: the outbreak of the SARS epidemic. As he began to see the threat of SARS playing out in Taiwan and around the Pacific Rim, Dr. Fang-Pang Lin of the NCHC asked me what PRAGMA could do to help. More specifically, he wanted to know how could NCHC and the broader HPC community, including PRAGMA, with all of our technology, help address this critical social/societal need. After a conference call with members of the PRAGMA Steering Committee, we created a call for technologies across the international HPC community, for technologies to help with communications between patients and doctors, doctors confined in hospitals and other doctors, and isolated patients and their families. While NCHC staff carried the load on addressing the issues in Taiwan, input came from many labs across the world. This moment focused our community and became a valuable lesson regarding the impact of our work on larger issues.
A pivotal workshop was PRAGMA 5, held in Taiwan and hosted by NCHC, in October 2003. We had been working together for 18 months and had built up a trust among the participants. At that point, we had crystallized our thinking as to how PRAGMA could bring routine use of grid computing for some exemplar scientific applications. Many participants noted a significant change in the interactions of the PRAGMA members.
Also, in the time from August 2003 to April 2004, two major projects, based on PRAGMA’s collaborative framework, were launched, that really brought members of PRAGMA together. The first leveraged the NCHC Eco grid project that put sensors in various places throughout Taiwan with some members of the international Long Term Ecological Research (ILTER). Over the course of eight months (August 2003 to April 2004), a team of researchers conceived and implemented a plan to put a network-connected buoys in Yuan Yang Lake in Taiwan, with data being shared among scientists from around the world. This happened through teamwork, commitments of several funding agencies, and PRAGMA’s ability to help build a bridge between an application community and a technology community on an international scale. But this initial proof of concept grew, through many other awards from many different countries, into a vibrant grassroots organization called the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON), which has adopted many lessons learned from PRAGMA and which now still has several collaborations with PRAGMA.
A second example of building on the framework of PRAGMA is the launching of a series of programs aimed at providing students an experience of research at a PRAGMA site coupled with an immersion in a different culture. The Pacific Rim Experiences for Undergraduates (PRIME) was launched in 2004 with a class of nine students being sent to one of three sites: NCHC, Osaka University, and Monash University. Over the course of the subsequent 5 years, PRIME has sent more than 100 students on nine week internships. As of this writing, there are 33 students participating in 2009, with 13 host sites. In 2005, Osaka University launched the Pacific Rim International UniverSities (PRIUS) that augmented the concept of international research with classroom curricula and a lecture series by international researchers. In 2007 Monash University launched the Monash University Research Program Abroad (MURPA) that built on the experiences of PRIME and PRIUS, and augmented the activity to include an international lecture series using HD video to bring lectures into Monash University. The first set of MURPA students spent two months in San Diego in January- February 2009.
Over the past seven years, while helping conceive, grow, and promote PRAGMA, I have had the opportunity to visit many different PRAGMA sites, enjoy the hospitality and culture of many different hosts, and watch teams of researchers grow together, individuals succeed in their professional careers, and to create new collaborations. Each of the PRAGMA Workshops provides us a venue to discuss progress between meetings and plan next steps, meet researchers from new sites, and be exposed to the culture of the host site (now a tradition in PRAGMA). This experience has been extremely rewarding and enriching for me, and I hope for many of the participants.
Peter and the NCHC's Dr. Eugene Yeh
Can you share with us some of your most memorable experiences collaborating with the NCHC?
Many of the experiences I mentioned above (e.g. reacting to SARS, launching GLEON, starting PRIME) all involved researchers from NCHC. I’d like to mention two other experiences that are memorable collaborations with NCHC.
NCHC was a leader in understanding that sensor networks would be vital in many environmental settings. As mentioned above, leveraging their work on Eco grid allowed us to launch GLEON (and a similar effort for Coral Reef Environmental Observatory Network – CREON). Further, NCHC Hosted GLEON 3 in October 2006. However, after the first buoy installation in Taiwan’s Yuan Yang Lake, there was a desire to add additional sensors to the buoy. A group of scientists from Wisconsin, San Diego, and Hsinchu (NCHC) attempted to add the buoy’s in advance of Nock-Ten Typhoon in October 2004. The story with pictures and song are available at http://lakemetabolism.org/typhoon_trip.htm and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGlWBb6eaD8, respectively.
NCHC started an innovative outreach program to members of institutions in Southeast Asia interested in high-performance computing. NCHC initiated a Southeast Asia International Joint Research and Training (SAIJRT) program, which has been extremely successful in networking in this region. PRAGMA held a joint Institute with this activity in 2007 and I was very impressed by how well these two concepts, SAIJRT and the PRAGMA Institute, fit together and complemented each other. The PRAGMA Institute was put in place to help train and engage members of the Pacific Rim research community in grid tools developed by PRAGMA members.
Finally, we were all very pleased and proud that Dr. Fang-Pang Lin and his team were recognized by Taiwan's Executive Yuan by receiving the "2006 Award for Outstanding Contributions in Science and Technology" for their work in the Eco grid project.
Peter and the NCHC's Eco grid team
Do you have any suggestions as to how the NCHC can become more involved in international collaborations in general and in PRAGMA in particular?
As indicated above, NCHC has contributed tremendously to PRAGMA’s current success, through its leadership in areas of application, sensor network technologies, and human resource development (e.g. PRIME, Southeast Asia Institutes). Additionally, NCHC has contributed leadership in terms of key members of steering committees of both PRAGMA and GLEON. Working with members at NCHC has also brought PRAGMA into contact with researchers at the National Applied Research Laboratory (NARL) in Taiwan, whose members have participated in the PRAGMA GEO working group. Finally, NCHC has always been generous to PRAGMA members by sharing its booth at Supercomputing meetings over the last 5 years.
I look forward to NCHC’s leadership in many ways. Hosting of workshops such as HPC Asia (March 2009) gives great visibility as does participating in other international venues such as SC09. Building tools and sharing them with the broader community is another type of leadership. Building and growing the human capital of the organization and having them lead in international projects is important for any organization. Engaging researchers in the new facilities in Taichung will be a great way to get researchers and students from outside Taiwan to know more about NCHC, and to create new collaborative efforts that engage NCHC staff.