Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Grid Computing at ASP (and a few personal reflections)

After a little over a week in Rwanda at the African School of Physics, I have returned to the United States and working on adjusting back to my home country.  I enjoy being home, but I do miss Rwanda.  The country was much more beautiful than I expected.  The people are so warm and friendly.  This national beauty was only bolstered by the friendly nature of the students and faculty.  Thank you so much to all the students, faculty, organizers, and anyone else who made my trip to Rwanda so enjoyable. 

I am a member of the operations team for the Open Science Grid and I currently work at Indiana University. I arrived as a part of a teaching team from the Distributed Organization for Scientific and Academic Research (DOSAR).

My portion of the school was built to show and teach students the concepts of grid computing.  My colleagues and I showed examples of different types of academic/research computing and how each one fits a different task.  We displayed results and statistics of actual analysis that had been done on the Open Science Grid. The Open Science Grid uses high-throughput computing to give researcher access to a massive amount of computing power that is distributed all over the world.  

Students were led through a variety of exercises that showed basic concepts of Distributed High-Throughput Computing (DHTC), such as sustained computation, reliability, and workflow management.  While many of these concepts were new to most students, it was encouraging to see them pick up on the concepts and begin to understand how these computing resources could be used to further their own research.

The final example that we had the students work through was to use a program called Root to do an analysis of actual data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is located at CERN in Switzerland.  The exercise showed just a small part of the massive workflow that the ATLAS experiment uses to analyze their LHC dataset, but students were very excited to see the results on their computers.

Overall, I think it was a good experience for the students and I know it was a wonderful experience for me.  I got to meet so many wonderful and bright students and hopefully I gave them some inspiration to think about how computing can help their research.  My colleagues and I at DOSAR are very excited to help any students that contact us.

I cannot thank the staff and students enough for such a wonderful time that I experienced in the beautiful country of Rwanda.  Thank you all again for having me, and I am already counting the days until the next edition of the African School of Physics.


Friday, August 19, 2016


I find it difficult to express to you my thanks, because since my arrival in the Rwanda, i have been receiving allot of kindness and hospitality from different people, right from the air port, to sport view hotel,during lectures and through out the entire program from ASP organizing committee,  lecturers, my fellow students and from all the people, and now even my departure to my country. I believe ASP have allot to teach the rest of the scientific community the art of living together in peace with one another .
I will go back to my country with allot of encouragement knowing full aware that the international scientific community think well of us and we are very eager to also to join this marvelous profession.
I hope by our coming together and by the exchange of idea and by showing one another mutual respect and understanding we shall be able to make this world a better for mankind. once again thank you very much, i shall go back to Nigeria with happy memory of my participation of the 4tnh ASP conference at kigali .
Abdulgaffar Abdurrazaq
Federal Republic of Nigeria  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

ASP Forum Day and Outreach

It was Saturday, but ASP did not take a day off! A break from classes gave the students and lecturers an opportunity to interact with members of civil society, government, and the community.

The morning began with a Quarknet led masterclass for high school teachers on particle physics and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. This was the second and final day of the masterclass, and the teachers got to participate in a CMS virtual visit (you can also take an ATLAS virtual visit). They then participated in a dry run of exercises they could do with their students in their schools. At the end of the day, the teachers discussed possible lesson plans and how particle physics exercises would fit into their students' curricula. They were excited to share these particle physics exercises in their own classrooms.

Teachers plotting the Z-boson mass peak in an exercise they can do with their students in the classroom

ASP then turned its attention to The ASP2016 Forum Day, held at the CMHS Hall Nyarugenge Campus of the University of Rwanda. This year's theme was "ASP as a platform for collaboration and bilateral agreement within Africa on Education and Capacity Development". 

The forum was moderated by Bonfis Safari, physics professor at of the University of Rwanda, College of Science and Technology. It was opened with a welcome address given by Mike Hughes on behalf of the Rwandan Ministry of Education. Ketevi Assamagan then gave a background on The African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications. The students' perspective on the school and their experiences in Rwanda was shared by one of our own, Alice Ikuzwe.

Mike Hughes (left), the Advisor on Science, Technology, and Research Ministry of Education, welcomes the crowd (right)

Successful models of collaboration were presented by several speakers. Bobby Arachya presented The Abdus Salam Italian Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) and the agreement between ICTP and the University of Rwanda to host the new East Africa Institute for Fundamental Research. The Executive Secretary of the Inter-University Council for East Africa, Prof. Alexandre Lyambabaje, and the Deputy Executive Secretary of The East Africa Science and Technology Commission, Saidi Kibeya, spoke about the agreement of the East African bloc to work together to build capacity and access to education in the East African Region. Then the Hon. Dr. Musafiri Papias Malimba, the Minister of Education, gave a Rwandan perspective on successes in education and partnerships. 

After a coffee break, the next group of speakers presented current and future initiatives for research and entrepreneurship. Didier Nkurikiyimfura, the Head of Technology and Innovation for SMART Africa, presented the SMART Africa initiative to build capacity in and economic development through Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The SMART Africa Manifesto started as an agreement between 7 African heads of state, and has now been adopted by all members of the African Union. Luce Serafini of the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN), presented the initiative to build a Compact Laser Facility for Africa. The laboratory for such a facility is compact enough to be hosted on a university campus and presents an exciting opportunity for researchers in Africa as a first step toward an African Light Source

The forum then looked to the future of ASP. Mweneni Shahungu of the Namibian National Committee on Research, Science and Techology and Eli Kasai of the University of Namibia Department of Physics presented on behalf of the organizers for the 2018 edition of ASP to be held in Namibia. Simon Connell of the University of Johannesburg Department of Physics then gave a perspective on how ASP and Africa can work toward capacity development while stopping Brain Drain. 

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Rwanda, Phil Cotton, then closed the Forum Day and welcomed attendants to join ASP and the students for a reception at the Hotel Portofino. We may work on a Saturday, but we also know how to have fun!

Traditional dancers provide entertainment during dinner shared between ASP students and guests

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Why particle physics?

I am back to CERN, after 11 days in Rwanda (including travel, and some visits to mighty African animals that are part of our collective imagination since we were children, but that I had never seen in the wild before!), but my mind still goes back there, despite the enormous backlog of things to do.
During the last dinner I was discussing with other lecturers about a topic often mentioned among us, that lies at the core of the school. The point is: why teaching a curriculum centred around particle physics to students who are not working in this field, and that in most cases will never? Would it not be better to teach something closer to their current research topic?
All that of course is not denying the positive aspects of this school from the social perspective, but are we optimising the return of the effort?
I has similar questions in Dakar, when I realised that indeed the particle physics students in this school are a minority.
After some thinking, I thought that indeed what we are doing does make sense (even if everything can be improved of course).
In most countries and universities, a Physics curriculum includes a compulsory course (usually in the third year) on particle physics. This is often not available in Africa, given the lack of research in this field. This school tries to partially fill this gap. In addition to that, it gives a glimpse of the future, of the applications of accelerator technologies, and of modern computing techniques. All this is very important for the scientific culture of the students, some of them will be professors in their universities and form new students on their turn. We are also showing an example on how Cern managed to operate super-complex machines with thousands of physicists from all over the world working together. It is not obvious, even if we give it for granted somehow.
Some of the students may decided they are really passionate about particle physics, and try to get a PhD in this field (sadly, from the time being, mainly outside of Africa). However, some of them may come back, and starting building something in their own country. Of course nobody thinks that at least how things stand now a large particle physics accelerator will be built in Africa (not talking about light sources, mainly used for matter physics, but really about a high-energy machine); however Africa has mines, and land; already several cosmic ray projects are taking place there, and more can come, attracting foreign investments. Participating to Cern experiments may still be expensive for some countries, but perhaps if they join their efforts and create a cluster, plus hire some professor who is already in the collaboration it is not impossible.
The alternative is also far from clear. If we do not teach particle physics, well in that case the organisers and lecturers should be found in other disciplines, but which ones? It is already very dense and difficult to teach a topic to people with so different backgrounds. If we have a school of cosmology, condensed matter, environmental physics etc. all in three weeks, the risk is that only a superficial introduction to each topic can be given. So it is perhaps better to concentrate on a topic, and perhaps give more emphasis, with the students and not only in the forum, on what Africa can do on it.

A Namibian in Rwanda

I am Vasti Mantedo from Namibia, the South West part of Africa. I am a final year Physics honors student at the University of Namibia. My flight from Namibia (Windhoek) to Rwanda (Kigali) was quite long, changing flights and waited hours for my flights, nevertheless, the delay was worth it at the end from the upcoming facts.

First and foremost, I would like to thank the African School of Physics (ASP) team for granting me this opportunity to participate in this wonderful event. Being exposed to research on fundamental physics and its applications was quite fascinating. Though most of the topics were far beyond my academic level, I was able to match-up the difference in my knowledge about this area of research. Most of the subject matter was apparently new to me, due to that fact, questions I asked and things I always wonder about, I got answers to and was able to assimilate them to my understanding. The most intriguing outcome of this School is that I would like to gain more insight into the underlying subject of particle Physics. Continuing my studies is no longer an option but a must desire! ASP has brought back the zeal I once lost for wanting to know more, and I am now motivated by questions like: “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” and nonetheless, I will like to contribute to the unified field theory by pursuing the field of fundamental and particle physics to the fullest.

ASP has opened my mind in so many ways; academically, socially, morally, just to name a few.
I met students coming from approximately 29 countries from Africa and a student from the US, as well as lecturers from all over the world and from famous scientific laboratories. Due to this multitude of people, I learned more about others cultures, religions, and believes and I now have a diverse mind about happenings worldwide. 

Speaking of Kigali and Rwanda as a whole, I was amazed with what my eyes saw during my stay in Kigali. The people, culture, food, weather and nature made my stay in Kigali worthwhile. The citizens are humbled, friendly, welcoming and loving. I bet hospitality originated in Rwanda! With regards to the food, Rwanda has abundance and variety of vegetables and fruits, it’s like I only know 50% of them prior to my arrival. The nature as well is amazing, it is dry season in Rwanda but I see so much green, it’s almost untrue compared to what I previously experienced. 

Oh! almost forgot, when I heard Kigali (Rwanda) is the cleanest city, I just thought about it being clean, well its beyond clean. My reasons for testifying this totted truth is because one cannot find refuse lying around, no paper, no plastic and no bottles. But how...? Well hey, I can testify, Kigali (Rwanda) is the cleanest city. I will forever be grateful for this privileged scientific adventure.

Thank You!

Friday, August 12, 2016

A peculiar social outing

Traditionally, at the ASP a social outing is organised between the end of the first week and the start of the second, to allow lecturers of both weeks to attend, and have some informal time with the students.
So while I could not attend the outing in Dakar two years ago, I decided to plan my trip in order to be able to participate this time. So I left Geneva, where I live most of the year, in the morning of Friday, flew to Istanbul, then from there a 6-hours flight to Kigali. Even if I did pay for an economy class ticket, I was given a business class seat because all economy class ones were occupied, and it was an unusually relaxing trip. As I arrived at the airport in Kigali at half past midnight, someone was waiting for me, but he told me that we also had to wait for Esmeralda, another lecturer, coming with a later plane. We then got a ride to the University guest house where we lodged, and in the end we went to bed at 2, and the plan was that the bus had to pick us up at 7:45.
My colleagues called me at 7 since apparently we had to meet at the building where the lectures take place, and we started walking there; then after a few phone calls we were told to go back to the guest house; at 7:45 it looks like our bus had just left from the hotel where the others lodged, half an hour on the other side of town.
Knowing all this, I could have slept at least one hour more!
Finally the minibus with the other lecturers (most of them familiar faces) arrived, and we jumped in. After a few minutes in the steep, windy streets of Kigali (I still do not understand if this town has a place where one can actually walk, distances seem enormous!), we get out of town, and at the second uphill turn we see a large bus, with "University of Rwanda" written on it, standing in the middle of the road, and many students taking pictures at the side. Well, that was our other bus, and our students. Someone said "une petite panne", and we also went off our small bus. We did not realise we were about to spend the next seven hours in that place.
The driver tried to restart the engine in a quite noisy way, but with no success. Then someone went to a nearby tree to get a branch, and tried to open a little door, giving access to the fuel reservoir.
The local organisers, plus people who were in charge of that trip from the ministry side, were frantically talking in their phones, to find a solution. The school organisers, on the other hand, proposed to use the working minibus (the one used by the lecturers) to take people back to Kigali and there rent some private minibuses, but I guess the local organisers wanted to find a solution by themselves. There was some embarrassment, while the students were anyway enjoying their time, still taking a lot of pictures among themselves, and with us.
After a couple of hours a car came, with the principal of the college; he had an oil tank, since apparently the problem was due to oil missing in the fuel composition.
Adding the oil did not help, and time was passing by. At some point another minibus arrived, and a guy with a proper blue mechanician suit and proper tools, who started to work directly on the engine.
The second minibus was however not big enough to accommodate all students.
A few more hours passed, and the problem was that the available time was running short; it would have taken more than two hours to reach the destination, and here it does get dark shortly after six.
Finally the engine started, but the noise was quite strange, and it was not very advisable to travel for several hours on hilly roads with that unreliable vehicle.
In the meantime, a car had left to start the trip with the lecturers who had to catch a plane on the same day. Another car also arrived.
So, it was decided that the non-Rwandan students were fitted in to the two available minibuses, and most of the lecturers in the second car. The destination was changed, to a place that was supposedly only one hour away. The Rwandan students, plus Ketevi plus another victim (myself) had to wait for yet another minibus. Initially everybody was supposed to wait for this third bus, but since its request involved a complex bureaucratic procedure, we left the others go (at around 2PM), so that they could get to the new destination on time. Sick of being at the side of the road for so long, we decided to walk down, and have a beer. There I must say that the Rwandan students were great, smiling despite everything, joking among themselves, and happy to share a beer or two. I thought that after all I did not care about going to the excursion, and the main reason why I was there was to talk to people, and spend a god time with them.
At around 3PM , almost seven hours after the bus broke down, the third minibus arrived. We got on board, and after a few minutes we received a phone call: the alternative place that was supposed to be one hour away was actually more than two hours, and we would not have made it on time.
Then the Rwandan students proposed a yet alternative solution: first, stop somewhere to have some skewers (brochettes) and roasted corn; then go to see the caves in Musanze. When we got there the caves were of course closed, but the students knew someone working there, and we made a private, clandestine tour, accompanied by a security guard with a gun!
Then night arrived, and our minibus driver came down the mountains like crazy, and we were in Kigali in time for a late dinner.
As per the title, I never had such a social outing for a conference; however I must say that the fantasy and enthusiasm of the students largely compensated for the lack of flexibility of the official, bureaucratic organisation.
Is it a proxy for how Rwanda works?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

First week of ASP2016

Hi everyone, this is Haifa Rejeb Sfar,  I’m from Tunisia, I got my license degree in fundamental physics in 2014, currently, I’m a second year master student in quantum physics and I’m also doing an internship in experimental particle physics. In the meantime I’m attending the ASP2016 in Rwanda.

Firstly I would like to tell you that I’m impressed how beautiful, clean and safe this country is and how friendly the people are.
It is a great pleasure to have been selected to attend this school, to get the chance to be surrounded by these great lecturers and these active and supportive students. It’s actually nice to meet people from different countries with different cultures. ASP2016 has not only helped me academically but also helped me sociologically.

I’m interested in particle physics, and as I have mentioned before I am doing my internship in that field, during this week we have studied many courses such as: relativity and quantum mechanics plus introduction to QFT, particle physics and the standard model taught by famous lectures and it was a great honor for me to have met them like Dr. John Ellis, Jean Alexandre and Bobby Acharya, I’m really impressed, they made the physics so interesting. After listening to them, I made sure that I’m in the right path and I hope that one day I’ll be like them.

P.S: I’m a native Arabic speaker with French as a second official language, one of the best benefits that ASP2016 has given to me is to help me to improve my English by writing in this blog.