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Networking for Science Workshop

Kennedy High IT Academy students make connections

Story by Berkeley Lab June 20th, 2017

Ten students from the IT Academy at Richmond’s Kennedy High School spent the first week of their summer vacation getting hands-on experience in high-speed networking and getting first-hand advice on planning their future.

The students and IT Academy lead teacher LaRue Moore participated in the June 12-16 pilot workshop introducing them to networking for science. The workshop included daily 30-minute instructional presentations followed by 30 minutes of hands-on work, a sequence developed by Sowmya Balasubramanian of ESnet. Topics included configuring IP addresses, tracing packets, assessing network performance and locating bottlenecks.

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TOur of NERSC, ESNet

Students got an up-close look at how massive data sets are moved in and out of the NERSC supercomputing center via ESnet, the world’s fastest network for science.

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Finding inspiration

Mariam Kiran, a networking researcher in ESnet, described how she became interested in science as a young girl by watching science fiction movies and cartoons. ESnet’s Chris Tracy gave a primer on working with and testing optic fiber cable.

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Where does the data come from?

Doug Taube walked the students though the Advanced Light Source, where they saw beamline stations capable of generating nearly 120 terabytes of data from a single biology experiment. By comparison, it takes a full day for Instagram users around the world to produce 33 terabytes of data.

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Putting it all together

On the last day, students were given the assignment: You are a network administrator. You have five Raspberry Pis that serve as data transfer nodes. They are connected to a switch that can process at 1000 megabits/second. The Raspberry Pi themselves can transfer at 100 megabits/second. A user wants to use one of the data transfer nodes and has approached you for help in finding the best node. You need to run tests to find which is the best node.


Working in teams, the students measured the round-trip time for each node and then balance speed against packet loss to determine which performed best. Students then presented their findings to the group, as they would make a recommendation to an IT expert.

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In Their own Words

“This was extremely valuable for our students and now I want to see how we can scale it up to 40 students,” said IT Academy lead teacher LaRue Moore. “This week has given them both more knowledge and more confidence.”


Luis, who graduated in June and will be attending college in the fall called the week “very inspiring. Maybe now I’ll get my master’s degree and keep climbing.”

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Photographs and video by Marilyn Chung, Lead Photographer, Berkeley Lab