Compute Canada Awards of Excellence
Within Compute Canada’s four regions, more than 200 team members and support personnel are distributed from coast to coast, many employed by universities, enabling them to work closely with local research communities.
Compute Canada launched its inaugural recognition awards last night at the Compute Canada Soirée. This event is the beginning of a tradition of celebrating and recognizing exceptional advanced research computing support and expertise.
Being nominated for the Compute Canada Awards of Excellence is an important accomplishment. In recognition of this milestone, Compute Canada would like to congratulate the winners!
Belaid Moa – Outstanding Achievement
University systems, computing services – University of Victoria
Belaid Moa goes above and beyond to help researchers, not only at the University of Victoria, but also at University of British Colombia (UBC). In all, he received six glowing nominations for this award, more than any other recipient.
“Put simply, Belaid has revolutionized the digital humanities at the University of Victoria through his expertise, his kindness and his enthusiasm,” wrote nominator Stephen Ross, an associate professor in the department of English at the University of Victoria.
Dr. Ross was running a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) funded research project on using computational methods to explore modernist literature from a variety of perspectives. Students were interested in producing 3D maps of cities such as London, Paris and Dublin, but the professor didn’t have sufficient knowledge of the tools at hand. Enter Belaid Moa, whom Stephen Ross describes as “a programmer who clearly relished the challenge of designing an environment in which users could search through an encyclopaedia by characteristics and relationships among the entries, rather than simple keywords or Boolean parameters. Here, in brief, was a computer scientist with the soul of a poet.”
Dr. Moa sat in on every class at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute in 2014, to get a sense of what this community was learning.
“He is not content to do the work for us, but insists upon teaching us how to do it for ourselves,” Dr. Ross explained in his nomination, and added that Dr. Moa has spent countless hours with several PhD candidates.
Dr. Ross explained that in his field, the data is big, but not as big as it is in the fields of some researchers who access Compute Canada resources. What the humanities really need, he said, is “truly committed support from experts who really understand what we do. Belaid perfectly meets that need.” He suggested cloning him so he could revolutionize digital humanities across Canada.
Systems administrator – L’Université de Sherbrooke
Day or night, weekday or weekend, if you’re looking for help or advice from Jean-Francois Landry, you’ll probably get an answer, often an instantaneous one. Every one of his five nominators mentioned his wide availability and eagerness to help at all hours of the day.
“Jean-Francois is amazing at what he does,” wrote Mathieu Germain, a master’s student in computer science at L’Université de Sherbrooke. “His dedication to his user knows no bound. He answer question quickly and clearly at every time of the day, or even sometimes at night and even during the weekend.”
Mr. Germain noted that he takes the time to explain complicated concepts to users of all disciplines.
“More than one time he helped us figure out why out code was slow,” Mr. Germain said. “He also directed us to the right resources when he could not help us directly. Finally, he was always really quick to help fix the experimental GPU cluster. All this helped us reach our deadline and let us focus on the science.”
Hugo Larochelle, assistant professor at Université de Sherbrooke, explained that Mr. Landry would often show up at his lab in person to explain how the Mammouth cluster could be relevant to his work.
“He would be very responsive in helping us when using Mammouth’s small GPU cluster,” Mr. Larochelle noted. “Moreover, some of these tasks were sometimes executed during the weekend.”
Université de Sherbrooke PhD candidate Marc-Alexandre Côté called Mr. Landry “the” resource person to tap for advanced-research computing. He called him a “person who’s passionate about information and resources” who works hard to find the problem and solve it effectively.
Gabriel Girard, student at Université de Sherbrooke, called Mr. Landry an “essential” resource person for his research team.
Director, Centre for Computational Science (CCS), IT Services – Université de Sherbrooke
Alain Veilleux is a true innovator and that fact informs the passionate way he embraces his job of helping researchers use computers to get their jobs done. This was evident in the testimonials from his several nominators from different disciplines.
One large achievement stands out. It is his work in the realization of the GENap portal for genomics research. The main objective of GenAP is to reduce the computational bottlenecks associated with the processing of high-throughput data sets and to empower the life science community to explore their data in new ways and enrich their research and translational programs. GenAP also hosts data and resources for international projects such as the International Human Epigenome Consoritum (IHEC) Data Portal. Alain Veilleux is the one who coordinated the efforts of the teams at McGill and Sherbrooke to achieve GENap. In fact, for two decades, Alain Veilleux has talked to researchers at our medical school for example to draw them towards supercomputing.
André-Marie Tremblay, professor of physics at Université de Sherbrooke, recalls a time in 1998 when “clusters where still experimental machines.” Mr. Veilleux suggested to him and another researcher that they use one of their equipment grants to build a cluster instead of buying a the more conventional option of a workstation.
“Starting slowly with three PCs hooked together, the cluster grew into a 32-computer cluster that was much more powerful than the workstation we could have bought for that amount of money,” Dr. Tremblay said. “Using a grant from my Canada Research chair, his team built a second cluster from off-the-shelf components that featured many innovations, such as diskless CPU, vertical blades for cooling, and automatic monitoring of CPU temperature to avoid overheating.”
It would have been easier, Dr. Tremblay noted, for Mr. Veilleux to buy turn-key systems that would not have given as much performance for the money, but “Alain Veilleux has always looked at computing from the point of view of the researcher and given that computing is indispensable for my research, I owe much of my success to his dedication beyond the call of duty.”
Dr. Tremblay also notes that Mr. Veilleux’s “visionary qualities” were also evident when “he foresaw the future of Cloud computing. With University of Victoria and WestGrid, he has leading a Cloud computing project that is supported and now promoted by CANARIE. It has been recognized as a success and a key direction for the future by Compute Canada.”
Computational Research Consultant – Dalhousie University
If you’re working at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, in research areas that require computational power, expect Ross Dickson to quickly become an integral and essential part of your team. So say his nominators for this award.
“In the world of large-scale computing, the speed with which barriers are overcome and problems are solved is absolutely critical,” explained Sean Myles, assistant professor in the department of plant and animal sciences Dalhousie University. “It is often the case that our research team hits a computational barrier that we cannot overcome.”
In other institutions, including the Max Planck Institute in Germany, Cornell University and the Stanford School of Medicine, these barriers became stopping points to Dr. Myles’ research for several days while he awaited a response. No longer — because “Ross Dickson assured me, during my first week of my faculty position at Dalhousie University, that he always only a Skype call away and will always tend to problems as soon as he possibly can.” And so he does. Again and again.
Dr. Myles, whose research team is sequencing and analyzing our food’s DNA, says he’s convinced his lab remains competitive in computational and statistical genomics “because of the dedication Ross Dickson has to timely answers to our queries. We consider him a critical part of our research team and are thankful for the opportunity to nominate him.”
Joel Scott, who was then a master’s student in mechanical engineering at Dalhousie University, said Dr. Dickson was there to help with whatever problems he had. “Ross would come meet me in my office on Sexton campus and help me through my problems,” he said. “His explanations were very detailed and would usually morph into him providing me with full lessons in high performance computing.”
Information Technologies – University of Calgary
If you’re a rookie trying to navigate the big-data world, Douglas Phillips is the kind of guy you want on your side. Testimonials from his nominators all say the same thing: He responds with patience and grace to every question, whether trivial or substantial.
“Doug has been a great support to users in the Department of Mechanical Engineering,” wrote PhD student Zixiang Chen. “Since I started my graduate studies three years ago, Doug has always helped me and my peers on the technical problems related to parallel computing.”
Mr. Chen said he responds “promptly and in great detail,” to questions. “Not having a sufficient technical knowledge of computing, we often ask questions that are quite obvious or not related to his responsibility; however, Doug is always patient and always go beyond his duty to help us figure out the problem.”
Taya Forde, a veterinarian who is branching into research involving bioinformatics, said the prospect of using these programs can be daunting. “Doug Phillips has been an incredible resource for helping me work through these challenges, making what can seem like an insurmountable obstacle look more like another regular road bump on the path towards completing my PhD.”
PhD student Aria Hahn described Dr. Phillips’ efforts as “above and beyond.”
“As a novice user, I have stumbled my way through understanding how to use and manage the computational resources available through WestGrid and Compute Canada,” she wrote. “A quick count of messages from Doug in my inbox shows easily 15 to 20 different conversations. Each time I made a mistake, Doug sent me a kind email opening with a ‘thanks for using WestGrid.’ He would then follow with the problem, a solution and often several suggestions about what I could do to avoid this problem in the future.”
Director of Finance and Administration – University of Western Ontario, SHARCNet
SHARCNet’s reputation as a “model of financial responsibility in Ontario” is due, in large part, to Cindy Munro. So says her nominator, Dan Sinai, who sits as Chair of the Board for Compute Ontario and whose role is to ensure the entire Advanced Research Computing ecosystem is seamlessly available to all Ontario researchers, regardless of where they are located.
Mr. Sinai, who is the University of Western Ontario’s associate vice-president of research, said Ms. Munro has “gone about her job without fanfare and acknowledgement” for more than a decade. He said she has managed tens of millions of dollars on behalf of the consortium and built all the financial budget and forecasting models in Ontario. “Without her, we simply would not have received our matching funds from Ontario. She supported several financial audits, organized annual conferences and also managed human resources and communications for the consortia. She has shown incredible leadership through some very tough financial times.”
In his summary, he said she has had a significant impact on research and has gone beyond the call of duty in supporting his work and helping him meet a deadline. He noted that she created tools that removed barriers; she enabled unique cross-Canada collaborations and created platform or portal for a large research group.
HPC Analyst and Coordinator – University of Saskatchewan
Jason Hlady, who has worked in the areas of research and advanced computing for more than a decade at the University of Saskatchewan, was nominated for this award for his contributions to several national initiatives — but most of all for his work on the Globus Portal.
“His expertise and devotion were essential in being able to launch Globus so successfully as a national service in such a timely manner,” wrote his nominator, Lindsay Sill, Executive Director of WestGrid at Compute Canada. “In addition to Jason’s contributions to Globus, he also participates in several other national initiatives including, but not limited to, CANFAR/Compute Canada Operating Committee and technical planning committee, Research Data Management, National Platforms TECC functional committee, and RAC (storage technical reviews).”
Ms. Sill noted that she’s “sure there are many more things Jason is doing to contribute to Compute Canada that I’m not even aware of.” And, she said, he’s likely doing them efficiently with high-quality results.
“Jason never hesitates in helping with national and regional projects, on top of all his institutional responsibilities,” Ms. Sill wrote. “He is very responsive, dedicated and extremely knowledgeable. He is the type of person you can ask for input at any level: strategic planning, operations and user support.”
Even in the rare instance where Mr. Hlady doesn’t know the answer to a question, he will work hard to find it, well in advance of any deadline, she said.
“The number of researchers and staff, myself included, benefiting from his hard work are too numerous to count,” Ms. Sill wrote in summary. “Jason contributes immensely to the success of the organization and to the ARC landscape in Canada and for that, deserves the credit that accompanies this staff award.”