Project HiPAAC: Scrap-Heap Supercomputing Reborn

A small visualization wall demo from a "Scrap Heap Supercomputing" workshop for local educators.

Several years ago, I conducted a series of workshops for local educators called “Scrap-heap Supercomputing” which illustrated how commodity-class personal computers could be leveraged for academic high-performance computing research purposes and lessons.

A high-performance computing (HPC) set up from a "Scrap Heap Supercomputing" workshop.

All examples were constructed using surplus computer equipment that had been rotated out of service, so none of the systems were “top of the line” by any measure but we were able to provide examples of grid computing as well as visualization systems through high-performance computing configurations.

Another visualization wall demo from a workshop with local educators.After the response from our earliest Scrap-heap workshops, I developed an educational model for leveraging in-place computing equipment to facilitate high-performance computing resource needs and educational examples for learners. This was designated the High-Performance Affordable Academic Computing model by one of my students and designated Project HiPAAC for reference purposes.

The 5-year cycle of Project HiPAAC

Leveraging previously-surplused and in-place operating equipment, I have been able to test the full 5-year model over the past three years using both open-source (Rocks, BOINC) and commercial (Microsoft) high performance computing platforms in a live operating network environment. Educators have been able to use the demonstration configurations to explore topics including process parallelization, distributed computing, video stream synchronization, and lessons relating to community and personal engagement in the world as good citizens.

A grid computing example supporting the World Community Grid

To allow educators to include HiPAAC in their lessons, grid computing processing power was applied to the public humanitarian World Community Grid (WCG) effort, which formed the basis for my STEMulate Learning Lab crowd-funding effort in the first #SciFund Challenge. #SciFund is an international scientific crowdfunding event conducted through the RocketHub site.


The compute node funded through that project continues its work, Tweeting (@STEMulateOrg) its contributions to the WCG effort each week so that students and educators can track its progress as a learning resource.

A popular example of visualization using a multi-display interface for display of maps and video games.

Students also enjoyed the potential for high-performance visualization systems illustrated using high resolution scientific data sets, geographic information, and popular video games spanning the demonstration screens. This is a great example of the “WoW” factor that helps to capture the interest of young learners and help steer them towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) studies.

If you want to get young learners interested in the potential for high-performance computing, let them explore their hometown across a large span of monitors or play World of Warcraft on multi-megapixel displays! This doesn’t require expeinsive special-purpose equipment, the resources are already sitting on the desks and labs of most schools.

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