The Vision of the Supercomputing Challenge is to be a nationally
recognized program that promotes critical thinking and project-based
learning in science and engineering so that the next generation of
high school graduates is better prepared to compete in an information
The Supercomputing Challenge provides a venue for budding scientists,
researchers, and engineers to learn computational science skills (modeling
or simulations, data collection, visualization, research, and algorithms)
applicable to numerous STEM fields. Middle and high school students are
introduced to multidisciplinary research skills through a project-based
learning framework where they develop and solve problems from description
to implementation. The Challenge welcomes all interested students but also
makes great efforts to reach young women, minorities, rural populations,
and economically disadvantaged youth.
About the Challenge
The Supercomputing Challenge is an exciting program that offers a truly
unique experience to students in our state. The opportunity to work on the
most powerful computers in the world is currently available to only a very
few students in the entire United States, but in New Mexico, it is just one
of the benefits of living in the “Land of Enchantment.”
The Supercomputing Challenge is a program encompassing the school year in
which teams of students complete science projects using high-performance
supercomputers. Each team of up to five students and a sponsoring teacher
defines and works on a single computational project of its own choosing.
Throughout the program, help and support are given to the teams by their
project advisers and the Supercomputing Challenge organizers and sponsors.
The Supercomputing Challenge is open to all interested students in grades
4 through 12 on a non-selective basis. The program has no grade point, class
enrollment or computer experience prerequisites. Participants come from public,
private, parochial, and home-based schools in all areas of New Mexico. The
important requirement for participating is a real desire to learn about
science and computing. Supercomputing Challenge teams tackle a range of
interesting problems to solve. The most successful projects address a topic
that holds great interest for the team. In recent years, ideas for projects
have come from Astronomy, Biology, Geology, Physics, Ecology, Mathematics,
Economics, Sociology, and Computer Science. It is very important that the
problem a team chooses is what we call “real world” and not
imaginary. A “real world” problem has measurable components.
We use the term Computational Science to refer to science problems that
we wish to solve and explain using computer models. See
for details and examples
from the April 2021 Final Reports.
Those teams who make significant progress on their projects can enter the
projects in the competition for awards of savings bonds and scholarships for
the individuals and computer equipment for the school. Team trophies are also
awarded for: Teamwork, Best Written Report, Best Professional Presentation,
Electronic Search & Browse, Creativity and Innovation, Environmental
Modeling, High Performance, Multimedia and the Judges’ Special Award.
The Supercomputing Challenge is offered at minimal cost to the participants
or the school district. It is sponsored by a partnership of federal laboratories,
universities, and businesses. They provide food and lodging for the Kickoff
conference during which students and teachers are shown how to use supercomputers,
learn programming languages, how to analyze data, write reports and much more.
These sponsors also supply time on the supercomputers and lend equipment to
schools that need it. Employees of the sponsoring groups conduct training sessions
at workshops and advise teams throughout the year.
The Challenge Year opens with a Kickoff at a Conference Center where students
attend talks and tutorials on essential knowledge for successful completion of
the Challenge. In the middle of the year, Sandia National Laboratory hosts a tour
with talks and demonstrations of technology developed at Sandia. The year
culminates at Los Alamos National Laboratory or in Albuquerque in late April
with a Project Expo and Judging followed by an Awards Ceremony.
The New Mexico High School Supercomputing Challenge was conceived in 1990 by
former Los Alamos Laboratory Director Sig Hecker and Tom Thornhill, president
of New Mexico Technet Inc., a nonprofit company that in 1985 set up a computer
network to link the state’s national laboratories, universities, state
government and some private companies. Senator Pete Domenici and John Rollwagen,
then chairman and chief executive officer of Cray Research Inc., added their
support. In 2001, the Adventures in Supercomputing program formerly housed at
Sandia National Laboratories and then at the Albuquerque High Performance
Computing Center at the University of New Mexico merged with the former New
Mexico High School Supercomputing Challenge to become the New Mexico High
School Adventures in Supercomputing Challenge.
In 2002, the words “High School” were dropped from the name
as middle school teams had been invited to participate in 2000 and had done
well. In the summer of 2005, the name was simplified to the Supercomputing Challenge.
In 2007, the Challenge began collaborating with the middle school Project
GUTS, (Growing Up Thinking Scientifically), an NSF grant housed at the Santa
Fe Institute. In 2013, the Challenge began collaborating with New Mexico
Computer Science for All, an NSF funded program based at the Santa Fe
Institute that offers a comprehensive teacher professional development
program in Computer Science including a UNM Computer Science course for teachers.