Exploring Mars through Internships: A special Pawsey Friday

February saw the Pawsey Summer Internship program come to an end with 12 students presenting posters on their research, experiences and learnings at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.

Every year, the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre runs an intensive 10-week internship program. In November 2019, a group of students were selected to join the program to delve deeper into their scientific areas through high-performance computing, data analytics and visualisation.

Among the internship projects showcased as part of the session was research on New Martian Impact Crater Detection. A project that includes Professor Gretchen Benedix from the Space Science and Technology Centre at Curtin University. Professor Benedix took part in this special Pawsey Friday as she presented her research Decoding the Surface Age of Mars before the Interns took stage.

Decoding the Surface Age of Mars

Crater counting is the traditional method of determining the surface ages of planets throughout the solar system. This method, up to now, has gathered data painstakingly counting each crater by hand.

The current published database for Mars contains hundreds of thousands of craters for diameters larger than 1km. If we can count craters smaller than this, we will be able to target new areas of interest on Mars or date previously analysed areas with much higher precision. Manual counting becomes intractable because the rate of impacts on planetary surfaces follows a power law such that the number of small (less than 1km) craters is exponentially higher than the number of large craters (i.e. number in the millions).

To count these requires an automated tool. Here we show that we have developed such a tool. We have validated the results against current manual databases. Importantly, and for the first time, we demonstrate that an automated crater counting tool can deliver geologically meaningful ages.

Professor Gretchen Benedix

Professor Gretchen Benedix is a cosmic mineralogist / astro-geologist and a Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Curtin University. 

Gretchen uses the chemistry, mineralogy, spectroscopy, and petrology of meteorites to understand the evolution of the Solar System.  She received her PhD in Geology and Geophysics at the University of Hawaii, Manoa in 1997.  Gretchen subsequently held a variety of research positions, including at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. and several universities (Arizona State, Virginia Tech, Washington University) in the US.  

She has been lucky enough to work as a researcher in two national Natural History Museums, the Smithsonian in Washington DC and the NHM in London.  She moved from the US to the UK in 2005 to work at the Natural History Museum, and from the UK to Australia in 2012 to work at Curtin University.

Gretchen has served as a council member as well as a member of several subcommittees of the international Meteoritical Society. She is currently a member of the Board of the Gravity Discovery Centre in Western Australia and has a continuing visiting scientist position at the Western Australia Museum. Her work has taken her to 6 continents, including Antarctica twice.    

Gretchen has an asteroid named after her (6579 Benedix), which will never even come close to planet Earth.

If you would like to watch Gretchen’s presentation, visit Pawsey’s YouTube channel, where it will be published.

Poster Presentations and Winners

Students are supervised by project leads on their respective projects, which range from geophysical use of HPC, atomic and molecular photon collisions and carbon molecular dynamics simulations, quantum statistical algorithms, genomic mapping, sampling and genetic analyses, automatic seismic interpretation and critical infrastructure monitoring using deep learning and martian impact crater detection.

Based on their posters the students competed to win two Pawsey action cameras. They were judged by a panel that included Dr. Bronis de Supinski, CTO Livermore Computing LLNL, Natasha Simons, the Associate Director, Skilled Workforce, for the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), Dr. Rodney Thiele a science education specialist with CSIRO Education and Outreach, and ICRAR’s Cosmic Communicator, Cass Rowles. As well as the attendees through the People’s Choice Award vote.

The judged winner was Mitchell Cavanagh from UWA who worked on the New Martian Impact Crater Detection project with Dr. Anthony Lagain and Professor Gretchen Benedix at Curtin University. The project focused on new impact craters formed over the past decade on the surface of Mars. They provide important constraints in understanding the current impact cratering rate, properties of impactors (e.g. density, trajectory) and atmospheric fragmentation processes (strength). Moreover, their identification provides additional constraints on the seismic detectability of impacts and seismic signals detected by the NASA InSight lander, recently arrived on Mars.

The aim of this project is to automate the detection of new impact craters on the surface of Mars by using a Crater Detection Algorithm. The pipeline of data treatment will involve training on images containing already known new impact craters and will then be applied on all high-resolution imagery dataset currently available, with preferential focus on dust-free regions.

Judges’ Runner Up

The contest was hard for the panel of judges at this year’s intern poster presentation. So hard that a second award was issued to Edric Matwiejew for his work on the Simulation of Quantum Statistical Algorithms project with Professor Jinbo Wang at the University of Western Australia. This project focuses on the problems that arise with the development of quantum computing from both the private and public sectors. Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum (NISQ) has created the challenge of developing efficient quantum algorithms which are resilient to system noise.

This project aims to develop and test highly parallelized MPI/OpenMP codes to simulate the quantum statistical algorithms recently proposed by the quantum computing research group at UWA.

The Peoples’ Choice Award

Ashling Charles won the People’s Choice Awards with her project on Mapping conservation in the human genome with single-base-pair resolution. The UWA project focused on over a quarter of all assessed species threatened with extinction. The DNA Zoo consortium, a not-for-profit organization incorporated in Houston, TX, USA, with sister labs in Perth, Australia and Shanghai, China focused on facilitating conservation efforts through the rapid generation and release of high-quality genomics resources. They believe that these efforts can not only aid threatened nonhuman populations, but will enhance our understanding of life, its varieties, and its origins, and will greatly facilitate our understanding of our own species – Homo sapiens.

The goal of this project is to develop a containerised workflow solution for DNA Zoo genome alignments to the human genome using LASTZ sequence alignment program. This project takes advantage of the HPC and Nimbus cloud architecture of Pawsey’s supercomputer to test the primary alignment processing stages, using the DNA Zoo genome assemblies of diverse mammal species to humans.

All of the student posters can be viewed here.

What is the Pawsey Summer Internship?

The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre Summer Internship program is designed to enable undergraduate students to develop skills in computational science by giving students the opportunity to immerse themselves in advanced computing research projects. Interns are supervised by leading researchers and undertake challenging research projects utilising the resources provided by the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.

Pawsey provides access to high-performance computing, visualization facilities, large-scale data storage and high-speed communications along with expert help to make the best use of technology. The internship program includes an intensive induction week to help students grasp the basics of supercomputing, data management, and scientific visualisation and understand their impact on research now and in the future.

If this interests you or someone you know, register to become a Pawsey Friend for updates and project application details.

Peoples' Choice Award winner, Ashling Charles

Peoples' Choice Award winner, Ashling Charles with Pawsey ED Mark Stickells and receiving her prize

Judged winner, Mitchell Cavanagh

Judged winner, Mitchell Cavanagh shaking hands with Pawsey ED Mark Stickells and receiving his prize

Judged runner up, Edric Matwiejew

Judged runner up, Edric Matwiejew shaking hands with Pawsey ED Mark Stickells and receiving his prize

Professor Gretchen Benedix at Pawsey Friday

Prof. Gretchen Benedix presenting at Pawsey Friday. A slide demonstrating the acceleration Pawsey systems have provided for her project.

2019 Summer Interns presenting posters

2019 Summer Interns presenting posters