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Brian Friesen Helps Cray Surprise an Inquisitive High School Student

May 23, 2016

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Brian Friesen (second from left), Christy Adkinson (middle) and Hugo Villanueva (second from right) with school officials at the John F. Kennedy Middle College High School. Image: Cray

About a month ago, Hugo Villanueva of John F. Kennedy Middle College High School in Southern California was trying to calculate the probability of surviving a zombie apocalypse, but his handheld calculator couldn’t handle the problem. So he wrote a letter to Cray Inc. asking for help.

The letter landed on the desk of Cray Sr. Marketing Director Christy Adkinson, who worked with school officials to set up a surprise visit to the school on May 18. Adkinson then reached out to NERSC, a longtime Cray customer, to see if the center would like to send someone as part of the vist.

Brian Friesen, a NERSC Exascale Science Applications Program (NESAP) post-doc working closely with CRD’s Center for Computational Sciences and Engineering), enthusiastically tweaked his travel plans and joined the visit en route to a meeting in Arizona. In addition to zombies, Friesen also talked to the students about his supernovae research and the infrastructure involved in keeping NERSC supercomputers up and running. He showed them a variety of visualizations produced with NERSC supercomputers, from combustion to white dwarf mergers, and discussed the types of classes the students would need to take to work with supercomputers for a living. 

“I had no idea how this would go,” Friesen said. “It seemed like the class enjoyed our visit, and they asked so many great questions! As Christy said, this was such a fun ‘day off.’”

The surprise visit also made a big impression on Villaneuva.

“I would just love to say thank you to everyone for the wonderful experience yesterday,” he wrote the next day. “Thank you all so much for the amazing first period and for going above and beyond to deliver an awe-inspiring message to the class and me. I will never forget that day and I will continue asking and answering those wonderful questions.”