Applied Mathematics 483/583
High Performance Scientific Computing
Spring Quarter, 2013
More about the Course
Computation and simulation are increasingly important in all aspects of
science and engineering. At the same time writing efficient computer programs
to take full advantage of current computers is becoming increasingly
difficult. Even laptops now have 4 or more processors, but using them all to
solve a single problem faster often requires rethinking the algorithm to
introduce parallelism, and then programming in a language that can express
this parallelism. Writing efficient programs also requires some knowledge of
machine arithmetic, computer architecture, and memory hierarchies.
Although parallel computing will be covered, this is not a
class on the most advanced techniques for using supercomputers, which these
days have tens of thousands of processors and cost millions of dollars.
Instead, the goal is to teach tools that you can use immediately on your own
laptop, desktop, or a small cluster. Cloud computing will also be discussed,
and students who don't have a multiprocessor computer of their own will
still be able to do projects using Amazon Web Services at very low cost.
Along the way there will also be discussion of software engineering tools
such as debuggers, unit testing, Makefiles, and the use of version control
systems. After all, your time is more valuable than computer time, and a
program that runs fast is totally useless if it produces the wrong results.
High performance programming is also an important aspect of high
performance scientific computing, and so another main theme of the course is
the use of basic tools and techniques to improve your efficiency as a
The use of a variety of languages and techniques will be integrated
throughout the course as much as possible, rather than taught linearly. The
topics below will be covered at an introductory level, with the goal of
learning enough to feel comfortable starting to use them in your everyday
work. Once you've reached that level, abundant resources are available on
the web to learn the more advanced features that are most relevant for you.
- Working at the command line in Unix-like shells (e.g. Linux or a Mac OSX
- Version control systems, particularly git, and the use of Github and
- Work habits for documentation of your code and reproducibility of your
- Interactive Python using IPython, and the IPython Notebook.
- Python scripting and its uses in scientific computing.
- Subtleties of computer arithmetic that can affect program correctness.
How numbers are stored: binary vs. ASCII representations, efficient I/O.
- Fortran 90, a compiled language that is widely used in scientific
- Makefiles for building software and checking dependencies.
- The high cost of data communication. Registers, cache, main memory,
and how this memory hierarchy affects code performance.
- OpenMP on top of Fortran for parallel programming of shared memory
computers, such as a multicore laptop.
- MPI on top of Fortran for distributed memory parallel programming, such
as on a cluster.
- Parallel computing in IPython.
- Debuggers, unit tests, regression tests, verification and validation of
- Graphics and visualization of computational results using Python.
All of the software used in this course is open source and freely available.
A Virtual Machine will be provided that can be used to create a Linux
desktop environment (with all of the required software pre-installed) that
can be run on any operating system using the free VirtualBox software. An
Amazon Web Services AMI will also be provided to allow doing the course work
in the cloud.