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‘High-performance-computing has become a fundamental part of research’

ICHEC director Prof Jean-Christophe ‘JC’ Desplat, discussed the research fields utilising HPC models and the centre’s work on quantum computers after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prof JC Desplat is director of the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC). A technology expert with more than 25 years’ experience in high-performance computing, his particular interest lies in the innovative use of high-performance computing (HPC) technologies in emerging domains.

In 2017, Desplat shared his insight on how company culture can be nurtured and why Arsène Wenger can be considered a business hero. This year, he spoke to on the changes the Covid-19 pandemic had on the ICHEC and the current research areas the centre is focused on.

Describe some of the issues you’ve faced in your role during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Future Human

ICHEC is Ireland’s national centre for high-performance computing hosted by NUI Galway but is a technology-focussed organisation with a very multinational staff base. My first challenge was the same as every employer who had to manage staff from domestic environments under restrictions.

Currently, the challenge is not only to find suitably qualified specialist staff willing to relocate to Ireland, but also to retain them within the difficult environment we all know (cost of living, housing crisis, chronic skills shortage, etc).

In addition to this we are also competing with the private sector for the same talent – where they offer higher wages and various other perks, we offer exciting career trajectories with high levels of job satisfaction.

At an operational level, service provision was not significantly affected by Covid-19 restrictions as our processes are distributed by design. Users and stakeholders reported no degradation in the quality of service and expressed their gratitude for this.

How has high-performance computing (HPC) developed in the last few years?

Covid-19 coincided with a burgeoning increase in demand for HPC services.  HPC has become a fundamental part of research and scientific advancement across all disciplines and particularly in Climate Informatics, Digital Twins of Earth Systems, Healthcare and Medicine, and Material Sciences.

Significant technological disruption is also taking place as we speak, with several digital technologies coalescing into a “Digital Continuum”. The most significant innovation of this decade will take pace within this continuum, and it is important that the deeply engrained silo approach to technology that prevailed for the past decades does not scupper opportunities for Ireland.

Which research fields are benefitting the most from HPC modelling?

HPC is multidisciplinary cutting across all research fields and areas. Its traditional benefits include shortened time to solution (near real-time in extreme cases), high throughput applications (such as cheminformatics, to screen candidate molecules for drug design), and large scale or computationally demanding models (such as for materials design or climate models).

In order for Ireland to sustain its ambition though, significant investments will be required to transition to the type of new data-centric platforms introduced earlier.  While traditional HPC platforms such as Kay have served well those researchers with large compute-bound problems, it no longer offers the necessary features and flexibility for advanced data-centric workflows and applications.

In Ireland, this situation resulted in significant cohorts of researchers being left without the necessary tools and platforms to progress internationally competitive research. Emerging communities such as those leveraging artificial intelligence, precision medicine and many others as well as those requiring access to large data collections have been particularly penalised by the limitations of the current infrastructure.

What sort of work has the ICHEC been doing in terms of climate?

The climate modelling research at ICHEC involves working with national partners such as the EPA, Met Eireann, Marine Institute, SEAI, OPW and GSI to simulate climate change on a global and national scale, as well as reconstructing the historical climate of Ireland.

The first major component of the climate research at ICHEC involves simulating climate change on a global scale using the EC-Earth Earth System Model (ESM). A large ensemble of EC-Earth simulations was run on the ICHEC supercomputing system.

These simulations comprise Ireland’s contribution to the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project and their results informed the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that was published in August 2021.

A second component of ICHEC’s climate modelling research involves simulating the future climate on a national (and European) scale at fine detail. This research involves downscaling CMIP5&6 data to provide high resolution regional climate projections for Ireland using both standard atmosphere-only and coupled atmosphere-ocean-wave regional climate models.

The ICHEC climate team also works on improving the ‘observational’ climate data record of Ireland by simulating the historical climate at very fine detail. The resulting datasets have the potential to be utilised in a wide range of applications, including agricultural, public health, energy, insurance, socio-economic planning and fundamental studies in observed climate change trends and variability.

Describe the platform ICHEC is working on to link researcher access to health data.

ICHEC was awarded funding from the Health Research Board to develop prototype infrastructure to support safe and secure access to and linkage of health and related data for research. This infrastructure separates personal data from the medical data.

It can then link individuals based on their identifying information across those datasets and replace this information with a meaningless identifier to protect the identity of individuals. A locked down secure environment has also been developed to allow approved researchers to safely access and analyse this pseudonymised data.

Facilitating safe and secure researcher access to health and related data will have immense benefits for public health. Therefore, ICHEC are also working with the relevant stakeholders on the governance and legislative requirements for the rollout of a national infrastructure on completion of this proof-of-concept.

What is ICHEC’s timeframe and goals for its Quantum Programming Initiative?

Our quantum initiative is progressing to plan and we are optimistic that in the current year we will be making further announcements as part of QPI.

Our current focus is on two fronts. First, with the development and provision of upskilling programmes, in close association with Skillnet Ireland and HEIs, to anticipate and address a rapid growth in demand for Quantum Programming skills across industry.

Second, with the development of novel algorithms for hybrid computing. This new model represents the leading edge of Quantum Programming and as such is an area of strategic importance.

As illustrated throughout the European Council Regulation and the EuroQCS joint white paper, HPC and quantum computing must be considered as closely related technologies and the ability to combine their strength within a single platform represents a domain where Europe can legitimately claim global leadership. 

Finally, we are committed to developing further partnership programmes with industry, such as the successful Quantum PFAS Chemicals Remediation recently completed with Accenture Labs.

Which SME sectors are showing the most demand for advanced modelling techniques?

What is interesting with the SME sectors is the diversity of domains that are now realising the potential of HPC when coupled with the vast amounts of data that every organisation has access to.

Traditional sectors such as health, finance and large manufacturing continue to have a large demand for HPC, but non-traditional sectors such as construction, services, and light manufacturing have realised the potential of HPC.

ICHEC offers accessible programmes such as the EuroCC SME Accelerator and demand is growing – we currently have a waiting list of companies looking to access HPC expertise. This is evidence of the reality that HPC is becoming mainstream and is accessed by many companies using web-based service providers.

However, maintaining skills in the fast-moving domains, accessing and retrieving data from the cloud creates problems downstream which commercial enterprises should be wary of.

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Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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