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MiKyung Kang
MiKyung Kang: Skilled Experience Behind NETL’s High Performance Computing Resources

Since joining NETL last year, computer scientist MiKyung Kang, Ph.D., has supported the Lab’s high-performance computing (HPC) environment across all three of its research facilities, empowering the Lab to continue finding new ways to fuel the nation using the abundant supply of fossil fuels in a sustainable manner.

Kang grew up on South Korea’s Jeju Island, one of the world’s New 7 Wonders of Nature and well known for its beautiful sand beaches and volcanic landscape of craters and cave-like lava tubes. She earned her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in computer science and statistics from Jeju National University, inspired by the rapid changes in technology she saw growing up.

New Tech, New Possibilities

“When I was young, I had an experience using IBM Disk BASIC with floppy disks in 1980s,” Kang said. “Also, in the early 1990s, I was introduced to the new world-wide network, known as the internet for the first time. Using internet-based information search and the first Korean online chat systems and message forums like AOL, I became interested in computer science, especially in the topic of network, real-time communication, and programming. That’s why I selected my major as computer science.”

As a research assistant and Ph.D. candidate, Kang researched key technologies for telematics systems, an interdisciplinary field that encompasses telecommunications and vehicular technologies such as onboard GPS with Bluetooth audio directions. South Korea led the drive to turn vehicles into “digital life spaces,” with the Jeju Telematics Model City Project in 2000s. Kang said that Jeju Island was the most suitable place for the promotion of telematics services due to extensive tourism and huge car rental businesses.

She also worked on courseware development of mobile programming for Seoul National University, and taught subjects including computer programming, introduction to computer science & data structure, web programming, wireless internet expert education, operating systems, multimedia content production, internet security, introduction to information communication and discrete mathematics.

Before joining NETL, Kang worked as a postdoctoral fellow, research programmer and computer scientist at the University of Southern California - Information Science Institute (USC-ISI) for 11 years. With a background in high-performance cloud computing and parallel software development for multi-core systems, she supported high-performance cloud computing for the U.S. Department of Defense and spaceflight systems for NASA. Kang has published more than 30 scientific papers and patents in computer science/engineering, cloud computing, real-time systems and wireless communications.

Working for NETL

“While working with the small HPC cluster of USC-ISI East, and working with the government HPC cluster, I had a greater desire to work on the bigger HPC clusters and on-site government systems,” Kang said. “NETL’s Joule 2.0 supercomputer was very appealing to me. Joule 2.0 was the 12th  fastest supercomputer within the Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories. This provides NETL and partners with high-performance computational power to solve challenges in energy.”

Kang joined NETL in December 2019, working out of the Pittsburgh site while also providing support for NETL facilities in Morgantown, West Virginia and Albany, Oregon. Her responsibilities include research computing, research data management, and strategic planning.

As part of the Lab’s tech support, Kang coordinates research computing efforts and supports NETL researchers in the deployment, maintenance, and operation of major HPC and analytics systems. Among other duties, she serves as oversight for research computing infrastructure and for the supporting contract activity that provides installation, configuration, testing, implementation, maintenance and enhancement services for the Joule 2.0 supercomputer, Watt machine learning cluster and the virtual curation and collaboration service Energy Data eXchange (EDX), along with 600 scientific workstations and servers.

For all of NETL’s advanced facilities and research, Kang noted that HPC capabilities and the tech support behind it make the Lab’s achievements feasible in the age of big data.

“NETL’s supercomputing capability enables researchers to simulate phenomena that are difficult or even impossible to otherwise measure and observe, and reduces the cost and time of technology development at every stage by speeding up the discovery of new materials, increasing the reliability and performance of novel devices, and reducing the risk inherent in scaling-up processes,” she said. “Highly-skilled technical support is very important for a secure, technical, and operational infrastructure that supports energy research, program management, and business operations for NETL assets.”

Kang noted EDX as an example. NETL’s EDX system is a virtual data library and laboratory for public curation of fossil energy research products, including science and engineering data, tools, presentations, and publications. EDX has more than 2,000 registered users, more than 20,000 public resources, and more than 62,000 secure, private data files. The private side of EDX facilitates data-driven research through secure and collaborative workspaces, offering teams supported by the Office of Fossil Energy a secure, private environment for collaboration.

Responding to New Challenges

Kang has worked on projects including the transition to Joule 3.0, the next NETL supercomputer, which is anticipated to be ready late 2022 at the Morgantown site, and the Virtual Engineering Environment, which has the goal of improving telework experience and performance.

While NETL has spent most of 2020 in telework status due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Kang said that tech support and the Lab’s HPC assets have remained active to keep the current research going and have explored the energy effects of the pandemic on the grid.

“As a part of DOE’s response to COVID-19, NETL has started working with industry partners on developing the capability for running epidemiological simulations at the national level to help decision makers,” Kang said. “A special node on Joule 2.0 with 40 cores and 1.5 Terabytes of random-access memory was deployed via Office of Technology Transfer funding.”

This enabled simulations of how energy grids are affected during a pandemic for the entire U.S. Previously, this kind of analysis was only possible for states or counties, but the new capability will help improve the energy grid of the future.

“NETL is in a unique position to accelerate the development of technology solutions through strategic partnerships with academia, industry and other research organizations. As an IT research computing team lead, I’m most gratified because I’m working for such a national asset,” Kang said. “Also, I’m very excited to be working on strategy and planning for DOE HPC data management with external stakeholders from DOE national laboratories, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, and other agencies such as the National Nuclear Security Administration and Energy Information Administration.”

NETL develops and commercializes advanced technologies that provide reliable and affordable solutions to America's energy challenges. The Lab’s work supports DOE’s mission to advance the national, economic and energy security of the United States.