Coalition’s new leadership renews focus on advocating for academic scientific computation

Computers play an integral role in nearly every discipline of research today, giving scientists the ability to discover new drugs, develop new materials, forecast the impacts of climate change, and solve some of today’s most challenging problems. But research computing can sometimes be overlooked. The Coalition for Academic Scientific Computation, or CASC — a network of more than 90 research computing-focused organizations from academic institutions, national labs, and research centers around the U.S. — hopes to continue to bring this critical computing work to the forefront through its activities. Newly elected leadership and recent changes within CASC are helping the nonprofit organization excel in this mission.

“There’s really no other organization like CASC in the U.S.,” said Wayne Figurelle, newly elected chair of CASC’s executive committee and assistant director of Penn State’s Institute for Computational and Data Sciences. “CASC represents many of the most innovative organizations dedicated to providing computational academic research support. While many are centers or institutes at universities, there are also national laboratories and other organizations represented in our membership.”

CASC recently created a positions committee that will allow the organization to quickly respond to requests from federal sponsors, set policy direction through its positions, and provide a forum for an exchange of diverse ideas.
CASC holds a spring and fall program for its membership, with the next one occurring this week April 7-9, 2021. At the programs, invited representatives from federal sponsors, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, share roadmaps and funding priorities, collecting feedback from CASC members.

“The power of CASC lies in the size of its membership and the diversity of institutions, centers, and national labs it represents,” said Sharon Broude Geva, past chair of CASC and director of innovation and computational research in the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Michigan. “CASC needs to be able to represent all types of research computing needs and advocate for them. To this end, CASC is composed of members from private and public universities from all Carnegie classifications and from all regions of the country and we are committed to finding ways to include the needs of all institutions, including those who do not yet have a campus organization that could become a member.”

The spring and fall programs also allow the diverse CASC members to benchmark, discuss strategies and best practices, network, identify research computing solutions, and form collaborations.

The Need for Advocacy
Research computing not only accelerates research discovery but it can also enable new types of investigation that weren’t previously possible. For example, artificial intelligence and machine learning are allowing researchers to discover new insights in myriad disciplines.

This enterprise requires not only the right hardware and software for advanced computation — sometimes referred to as supercomputing or high-performance computing — but especially the right people, advanced computation professionals, to support those systems and researchers. Unfortunately, according to Broude Geva, this enterprise is sometimes taken for granted or seen as a black box.

“So much of science relies on scientific computation,” she said. “But when you see these resources as a given, as just a big black box, sometimes that leads to thinking you don’t need to support all the aspects of these endeavors, and particularly the human aspects.”

CASC is now developing a strategic plan so that it can increase its advocacy efforts in the future, said Figurelle. “The new CASC Executive Committee is excited to lead CASC to achieve its mission and vision and execute the new membership-driven strategic plan.”

CASC’s Executive Committee for 2021-22 includes:
● Chair: Wayne Figurelle, Penn State
● Vice-Chair: James Wilgenbusch, University of Minnesota
● Treasurer: Dave Hart, National Center for Atmospheric Research
● Secretary: Jennifer Schopf, Indiana University
● Past Chair: Sharon Broude Geva, University of Michigan

About CASC:
Founded in 1989, the Coalition for Academic Scientific Computation (CASC) is an educational nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with 93 member institutions representing many of the nation’s most forward thinking universities and computing centers. CASC is dedicated to advocating the use of the most advanced computing technology to accelerate scientific discovery for national competitiveness, global security, and economic success, as well as develop a diverse and well-prepared 21st century workforce.