Supercomputing: Innovation’s Infrastructure


Dugan O’Neil, Chief Science Officer at Compute Canada, shares his passion for “big science” with François Cordeau, National Research Council of Canada


On October 17, 2016 researchers from across Canada joined the Honourable Kelvin K. Ogilvie, Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, and parliamentarians for an event co-hosted on parliament hill by Compute Canada and Senator Ogilvie.

The event highlighted the central role advanced research computing (ARC) plays in Canadian innovation, and featured eight different kiosks that demonstrated sector impact in aerospace genomics, big science , advanced manufacturing, crime reduction , personalized medicine, public opinion research. and innovation’s infrastructure.

Meet the world-class Canadian innovators and researchers that are using Compute Canada’s ARC systems to accelerate scientific discovery in everything from harnessing the power of genomics to revolutionizing manufacturing.

 Advanced Materials for Manufacturing and Safety

Canadian researchers are using supercomputers to understand how various elements react during material processing to create stronger high performing materials for industrial applications. Additive manufacturing or 3D manufacturing is the ability to create objects we wouldn’t have previously thought possible. Canadian companies are partnering with researchers to explore how to optimize specialized materials for things like automobiles, bridges, buildings, aircraft and other structures. Dr. Provatas demonstrated how simulating 3D manufacturing processes virtually is changing the way we build expensive components for big industry; using  greener, more efficient and high-performing materials.

Detailed human body models represent an evolution in assessing occupant safety in vehicle crash scenarios and act as tools for the design of improved vehicle safety. These innovative human models are also used to improve blast protection for the head, thorax and lower extremity, and to develop enhanced ballistic protection. Dr. Cronin demonstrated how advanced materials are applied to enhance human safety, and his work in an international collaboration to build the most advanced virtual human model in existence, focused on enhancing transportation safety.


Dr. Nikolas Provatas Professor, Condensed Matter Physics, McGill University, Canada Research Chair in Computational Materials Science Scientific

Dr. Duane Cronin, Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, and Executive Director of the Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research (WatCAR) at the University of Waterloo

 Big Data Crime Busters

A new age of crime analysis and computational criminology is changing how we address crime in our neighbourhoods. Using supercomputers, researchers are working to make advances in the modeling of the complex urban environment to understand how to improve approaches to crime reduction and the use of informatics in criminological research. Moving from a traditional set of data to processing and analyzing massive amounts of data points creates new ways of solving and reducing crime. New approaches are helping to solve complex missing person cases, as well as ways to reduce the development of crime corridors. Dr. Castle has worked internationally, nationally, and across the B.C. provincial justice system in operations and policy regarding organized crime, intelligence-led policing, performance measurement, and justice reform. Dr. Bryan Kinney is a specialist in crime analysis and crime prevention and in the use of big data and supercomputers to further innovations in the field.


Dr. Allan Castle studied political science and international relations at UBC, the London School of Economics, McGill and Harvard University and is an expert in crime analysis

Dr. Bryan Kinney, Director of the ICURS Laboratory Simon Fraser University

 Supercomputing for Big Science

From visualizing the human brain to discovering new planets and the properties of dark matter; learn about Canada’s prowess in Big Science and how it is fuelled by Advanced Research Computing. Big Science requires a global approach and Canada is contributing to several key international and national science endeavours that are attempting to explore and understand the complexities of our biggest science challenges, such as understanding the universe, our oceans and atmosphere and the human brain. Data collected from telescopes, medical imaging devices, particle detectors and other modern instrumentation opens new fields of inquiry to Canadian researchers. Modelling and visualizing these complex systems requires massive computing power that can process thousands of simulations simultaneously. Learn how Compute Canada is supporting Canada’s participation in several big science endeavours.


Dr. Dugan O’Neil, Chief Science Office Compute Canada. Dugan O’Neil was among the group of scientists who found first evidence that the Higgs particle exists.  

Dr. David Schade, Scientist and Group Leader Canadian Astronomy Data Centre, Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics, National Research Council of Canada

 Cloud Computing for Health

Two of the biggest hospitals in Canada, the Hospital for Sick Children and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, have decided to join together and build a framework to handle their future research computing and data needs. From the burgeoning science of genomics to the meticulously detailed pictures created by medical imaging, almost every discipline in health-care is dealing with a “Data Deluge.” Translating this into a deliverable that provides benefit to patients requires massive amounts of computation. Not only does this environment need to use the fastest available computer hardware, but it also needs to use those resources efficiently. Most importantly, as custodians of personal health information (PHI), hospitals must do all of this in an environment which strikes a balance between access to compute resources and protecting patient confidentiality and privacy. HPC4Health is a consortium of health providers who are working together to build this next-generation of compute engine for clinical research.


Dr. Michael Brudno,Scientific Director HPC4Health
Carl Virtanen, HPC4health Associate director
Christine Dalgleish,a rare disease parent and advocate who is benefitting from genomic data analysis and data sharing that is powered by HPC4Health.
Dr Suzanne Kamel-Reid, Chief in Clinical Laboratory Genetics, University Health Network

 Big Data Public Opinion

A “vox pop” is a term derived from the Latin vox populi, which roughly translates to “voice of the people.” It is commonly applied in reference to a technique used by journalists to arbitrarily survey people about a given issue. In news coverage a vox pop is meant to add depth to a story, but not breadth as the opinions captured by a vox pop are not generalizable to the broader population because the sample is non-random. Recent technological advances and the accompanying shift in modes of social communication now allow the possibility of engaging with millions of people in the time in once took a report to speak to a single interviewee. And although often the samples from these sources are non-random, new methods that rely on supercomputer resources permit us to model so-called Big Data from social and other new media, so as to make representative inferences about a population from non-random sample, allowing for unprecedented depth and breadth in the study of public opinion. Dr. Yannick Dufresne, is currently a postdoctoral fellow in political science at Laval University in Quebec.

Dr. Dufresne received his training in quantitative methods at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan and Harvard University. He has authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on public opinion, social media, and quantitative research methods for Big Data applications.


Dr. Yannick Dufresne is a co-founder and senior analyst at Vox Pop Labs.
Felix- Antoine Fortin – Supercomputing Expert, Compute Canada

 Supercomputing: Innovation’s Infrastructure

Staying Competitive means staying ahead.

Supercomputers or High Performance Computing are essential infrastructure being used around the world to accelerate scientific discovery for national competitiveness and economic success. High performance computing  powers dynamic inventions and innovations in almost every sector of our Canadian industry —from curing disease, to  aerospace and transportation, to manufacturing and consumer goods. They have transformed the way the world conducts scientific and engineering research. High performance computing has enabled discovery, insight and development in ways we once thought were impossible. These machines and the experts that support them are key to extracting value from big data, and enable the development  of a diverse and well-prepared 21st century workforce. Many times more powerful than your desktop computer, supercomputers are now predicting global weather patterns a week in advance, allowing countries to prepare for adverse weather and protect lives and infrastructure. Explore the world of supercomputing, cybersecurity and big data.  


Dr. Greg Newby, Chief Technology Officer  Compute Canada
Dr. John Simpson, Digital Humanities Specialist Compute Canada
Dr. Jonathan Ferland, Director of Information Security Compute Canada

 Genomics – The Power and Promise

Understanding biological systems is central to addressing the many serious challenges facing Canada and the world today, such as climate change, global population growth, increasing food and energy demand, and chronic and acute health issues. While data from human genomes is an extraordinarily rich resource for researchers and physicians, the size of the datasets is daunting. Recent estimates say that fast machines for DNA sequencing will be capable of producing 85 petabytes of data this year worldwide. For comparison, all the master copies of movies held by Netflix take up 2.6 petabytes of storage. Ensuring access to advanced research computing is an important element to achieving the power and promise of Genomics in Canada to bring considerable social and economic benefits to Canadians. Karen Dewar, of Genome Canada provided examples of the impact of genomics research in health, agriculture, environment, natural resources and other important economic areas and also discussed the translation of large-scale genomics research into long-term benefits for Canada. Dr. Guillaume Bourque talked about a revolutionary software platform called GenAP (, developed with a team at Compute Canada, which enables researchers to access genome datasets and send them for processing at Compute Canada’s high performance computing facilities across the country.  


Karen Dewar, Director of Genome Canada’s Genomics Programs
Dr. Guillaume Bourque, Associate Professor in the Department of Human Genetics at McGill University and the Director of the Canadian Center for Computational Genomics

  Airplanes of the Future

Aerospace innovation is leading the world in developing new advanced materials and advanced aerodynamics. Finding ways both to improve performance and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft is fundamental for design of the next generation of aircraft. Supercomputing infrastructure is crucial for the exploration of the necessary innovations.

Professor David Zingg’s research areas include aerodynamics, computational fluid dynamics, and aerodynamic shape optimization. His current research is concentrated on applying high-fidelity aerodynamic shape optimization to the design of novel aircraft configurations and development of new technologies motivated by the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft.    

Professor Zwanziger is studying the materials used to make airplanes, and in particular searching for improved aluminum-based alloys to make lighter, tougher components. His approach is to use atomistic simulations to determine the bonding and strength of alloys, which allows for rapid screening of potential candidates and the simulation of extreme environments. Once identified, promising compositions are then fabricated and tested.

Advanced simulations, modelling and visualizations of the type done by both Professor Zingg and Zwanziger make it possible to use a virtual laboratory to develop and investigate materials, design concepts, new technologies, and processes. This enables the development of powerful new concepts that would be impossible to develop through traditional laboratory techniques.


Dr. Josef Zwanziger, Professor, Canada Research Chair in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Studies of Materials
Dr. David Zingg, University of Toronto Distinguished Professor of Computational Aerodynamics and Sustainable Aviation, University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies

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