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Three Women Unlocking New Tech, Exploring the Origins of Life, and Inspiring the Next Generation

This March we are proud to profile over thirty-one women in HPC. Our feature this week celebrates the female leaders who have harnessed the power of HPC to unlock new technologies, explore the origins of life and inspire the next generation.

Part Four of a Four-Part Series

As we approach the end of our series on women in HPC, let us take a moment to recognize and celebrate the many women who have made significant contributions to HPC. Their achievements serve as an inspiration to the next generation of women in computing, and remind us of the important role that women have played and continue to play in the development of technology. In this piece our leaders talk about unlocking potential in their work. Through standing in representation in their stories we very much hope that other readers will see they too have the potential to make a difference.

Please read on to hear from our final featured female leaders in our blog series – and don’t forget – we have over thirty-one profiles of women in HPC being published across our social media sites. Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram to see all the profiles and thank you for reading about all these incredible women.

HPC Unlocks a More Sustainable Future

My first taste of high-performance computing (HPC) was during my PhD where I undertook a small computational mini-project to complement my experimental work. While the supercomputer I used at the time was probably less powerful, computationally, in comparison to my current mobile phone, I loved the way that computational chemistry could be used to predict chemical properties and reactions. What started out as a mini-project led me to a postdoc position that involved only computational work and now, 20 years later, I have established and now lead my own research group in this area.

Professor michelle Spencer, BSc (hons.), PhD, FRACI

Deputy Director, Centre for Digital Innovation STEM, RMIT University

My research team specializes in computational materials chemistry. We work to model reactions at the molecular scale to predict properties of materials that haven’t been synthesized outside of the computer yet or can be time consuming to characterize and make experimentally. Our goal is to find new materials that can be used to advance our technological capabilities while being sustainable. More specifically, the findings from my group’s work is helping to develop materials that can be used to reduce the size of common electronic devices, provide better renewable energy storage solutions (such as batteries and fuel cells), detect pollutants in our environment and create new manufacturing opportunities. The calculations needed to do this are very computationally demanding, so much so that we use two of Australia’s leading supercomputing facilities, Pawsey and NCI, for our work. If we were to use standard desktop machines for the same job, I would be long retired by the time we calculated anything useful.

The HPC research field, like many areas of science and engineering, has traditionally had low female representation. When I did my degree at university there were no female lecturers in chemistry or female professors who were active in research. This made me wonder if this was a field that would be welcoming to me even though I really wanted to work in it. For me, it is important to have a greater representation of women in this field as they act as role models for future scientists. Who knows how many great potential scientists we have lost and continue to lose from HPC because they didn’t see a place for themselves in the field, and so moved to other areas. That’s why it is important to be visible.

Personal Twitter: @Prof_MSpencer

Research Group Twitter: @MSpencerGroup

Google Scholar

HPC Is a Perfect Fit for Me

In 2012, I was awarded a highly competitive and prestigious Irish Research Council – IRC postgraduate scholarship to pursue a PhD at University College Dublin, Ireland. This marked the beginning of my journey in the field of High-Performance Computing (HPC). I was fascinated by the idea of using HPC hybrid and heterogeneous computing platforms to solve complex problems and the potential of HPC to revolutionize the way we approach computing. I felt like I had found the perfect fit for myself. Every day was a new day with new challenges. I quickly developed a passion for the field and have since worked on a variety of projects related to HPC. My work focuses on the performance and energy optimization of data-intensive parallel applications on heterogeneous high-performance computing (HPC) platforms.

Dr. Tania Malik, PHD

Assistant Lecturer in Computing, Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin)

My professional career is a good mix of teaching, research and development and industry experience. I have had the opportunity to work in leading Irish and international higher education institutions including UCD, DCU, NCI Dublin, COMSATS and NUST Pakistan. I am also active in industry collaborations and have worked with leading tech partners such as Fidelity, IBM, Whizz systems USA, PSEB and PYB. As a passionate academic, I believe in knowledge transfer as it gives me a sense of purpose and helps to grow. I strongly believe that teaching is the foundation of all other professions. I love to introduce my students to the latest concepts and developments in the HPC field. I also work to ensure that students are well-prepared to enter the workforce and are able to apply their knowledge to real-world problems.

I was the only female in my research group during my PhD as well as in postdoc. As a woman of color with an accent, I have experienced firsthand the lack of representation of women and other underrepresented groups in the high-performance computing field. This has led me to become a strong advocate for good representation, as gender and racial diversity are hugely beneficial in academics. Women scientists and engineers face numerous challenges, but these can also be seen as opportunities. Even if you are in the minority, my advice is, don’t be disheartened because it means there is not enough of “you” in that field. Find organizations and clubs that support your identity. There are more opportunities now than ever before, so make sure you take full advantage of the education that is available and you could be a role model for the next generation.

Personal Twitter: @malik_tania

Research Group

Google Scholar

Exploring the Origins of Life

Ever since I could remember I was fascinated by how and where life started. How did all the biodiversity and species around us evolve? How and why do we exist? So, when I learned about DNA and RNA and the field of biology, I was hooked.  Initially, I started out working on a lab bench, but then in 2011 I started my postdoctoral research journey looking at methane emissions from agriculture in Australia and how they impact the environment. At the time 40% of the emissions came from agriculture, a major portion of these from livestock. As the project dug deeper we discovered that animal feed plays a key role… and presented a key problem.  Is it genetics? The digestion of the food? The bug in the stomach of cows or sheep? The feed itself? Well “you are what you eat” held true in this context also and I followed on the feed component, which took us right to the source of the problem through the lens of – the DNA.

Dr. Parwinder Kaur

Associate Professor and Director, DNA Zoo Australia, The University of Western Australia

At the time there was another research group in Japan who happened to be looking at the similar species of legume plants, so I set off to work with them but it turned out that our fields weren’t as closely related as I thought. I was stuck with a choice: learn a new language and a new field, or, learn the language of supercomputing. I realized that HPC would allow me to expand beyond my field and that of my collaborators in Japan – so I choose supercomputing. I began with coding in Perl while I was pregnant and found I not only enjoyed it, but I had a talent for it. In 2013 I won the prestigious Science and Innovation Award for young people in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry by Australian Academy of Sciences and I was off in HPC and never looked back.

Today, I’m working on building foundational genomic resources for species and ecosystem conservation through capturing as much information as possible about the species at risk. There are over one million species currently at the risk of extinction. Each individual can generate hundreds of terabytes of data, for example, the koala alone has so far required trillions of pass throughs in order to establish the DNA of a single species. Regardless of the amount of work needed the more we understand about these species the more we can do to help them, and our entire planet, survive.

Personal Twitter: @Dr_Parwinder

Superstar of STEM

Google Scholar

A Continuing Series

Be sure to read all our Women’s History Month blog profiles at the tag below.

You don’t have to wait to learn more about the talented female leaders in our community. Simply check and subscribe to our LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram feeds to see even more profiles!  

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