BEAR Challenge 2023

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The event was fun, challenging, and insightful. The best part was that it gave me an opportunity to work and learn something new with my friends. Thank you, team!

This is a quote from one of the participants who attended the BEAR Challenge held between 19th-21st June. The aim of the challenge is to introduce High Performance Computing (HPC) to postgraduate taught and undergraduate students, both as a service at the university and a career opportunity. To do this we combined challenges that introduce aspects of using HPC as well as presentations and career talks.

The event was advertised months in advance to allow time for students to create their teams. This resulted in the largest BEAR Challenge to date, with 10 teams and 50 people; we were actually over-subscribed! All the participants were granted access to Baskerville, our Tier 2 HPC system with NVIDIA A100 GPUs. Each team had a reservation of 2 nodes with a total of 8 A100 GPUs.

The teams for BEAR Challenge 2023

Day 1

There was an atmosphere of anticipation as people arrived and received a collection of BEAR and Baskerville merchandise to use and remember the event. Once everyone could log in to Baskerville the official opening took place, with an introduction to the teams, Baskerville, HPC and the challenge rules.

Challenge one aimed to get everyone familiar with the Baskerville portal and using a Jupyter notebook. The students learned how to navigate the portal and work with a large dataset to identify images. Points were awarded for correctly identifying the number of space shuttles in the dataset.

Teams watching the first challenge presentation

Challenge two happened after the consumption of much pizza! This was to teach about SLURM, the Baskerville resource scheduler, and submitting jobs. The challenge also enabled them to see the power of the GPUs and the effect of using multiple GPUs. The students had to solve the hash functions and points were awarded based on the SLURM submission file created and time to solve the hash functions.

Day 2

On the second day, we kicked off with a talk from NVIDIA, introducing the company and its technology, plus career opportunities. Challenge three followed this, based on the NVIDIA course on Image Segmentation. This challenge combined a Jupyter notebook for them to work through with a separate quiz to make sure they understood the concepts involved. Points were awarded for the correct image segmentation solution and quiz answers.

Challenge 2 presentation and teams working on the challenge

In challenge four the students were introduced to agent-based models, working on building a self-sustaining ecosystem. James Allsopp has written up his thoughts in his blog “Bringing to BEAR – Creating a Challenge for the BEAR Challenge

Day 3

The last day began with the fifth and final challenge on Lenovo cluster design. After spending two days using Baskerville, the students had more understanding of what constitutes the cluster and they had to make their own design whilst adhering to both financial and power constraints.

The second half of the day was filled with talks, including a virtual tour of our Park Grange data centre. Throughout this virtual tour they were shown the kit that makes up our HPC as well as having physical examples to look at. Then came career talks from Lenovo and a member of Advanced Research Computing (ARC), this was to show the wide variety of opportunities available under the HPC umbrella.

Following the final scoring, the awards ceremony took place. The challenge results were very close and it remained competitive throughout. The winning team was Data Wizards, who were all awarded Lenovo tablets. Three teams were tied in second place: Bearemy Bearntham, Team Qubits and Vought International. We also presented a prize for the Best Team Name to Neural Ineptworks.

Final results and awards for BEAR Challenge 2023


50 students can eat a lot of food, especially pizza! At the end, we had our closing remarks and took a lot of photos. We had some really positive feedback and useful information for the next event:

  • 100% of responders enjoyed the BEAR Challenge
  • 100% found the talks from Nvidia and Lenovo interesting and engaging
  • The venue was rated 4.86/5.0
  • 71% said they would be interested in a career in HPC the other 29% said they were maybe interested

You can see more images of the event on Twitter.

Update 07/06/24

One of the participants from team went onto a position at the Science and Technology Facilities Council, you can read about how the BEAR Challenge experience helped him start his career here: