Faces of HPC: Judith B. Rommel
Judith Rommel is a Research Fellow in Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. Having always been interested in computation and numerical methods Judith started using HPC during her PhD studies in computational biochemistry.
Judith Rommel uses predictive multiscale simulations to study materials science problems at bio-nano interfaces, such as the self-assembly of small organic molecules on copper surfaces.
Tell us a bit about yourself – where you’re from, what you’ve studied and where, and what some of your outside interests are.
My roots are all over Europe. At the moment I am a Research Fellow at the Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. My first degree is in mathematics and biology from the University of Ulm, Germany. I received my PhD from the university of Stuttgart, Germany in computational chemistry. Apart from science I love outdoor activities like canyoning and creating music.
What is your current job? Describe what you do in HPC. Is this your main interest, or something you fell into?
Over the past years I have both developed codes for parallel simulations within HPC as well as conducted studies based on large scale computer simulations, e.g. on the reaction mechanism of an enzyme. I have always been excited about computing, programming, and numerical mathematics. Now I am especially interested in predictive multiscale simulations.
How did you become interested in HPC? Briefly describe your path into HPC.
Already as a master student I was fascinated by the possibilities that numerical simulations offered, e.g., to optimise the form of turbines and cars for more efficient water and air flow around them. Then a PhD in computational biochemistry was an excellent opportunity to move into HPC. Since then I have always had accounts on computing clusters, recently, more to study materials science problems at bio-nano interfaces, such as the self-assembly of small organic molecules on copper surfaces.
As part of this project we want to celebrate the diversity of HPC, in particular to promote equality across the nine “protected” characteristics of the UK Equality Act, which are replicated in world-wide equality legislation. Do you feel an affiliation with this matter, and if so how has this interacted with or impacted your job in the HPC community?’
I enjoy working in a diverse environment and I strongly believe that everybody should have the opportunities to work with the knowledge and skills that they are excelling at and where they can show their best performance. Until recently it had never occurred to me that a PhD student might think that women working on theoretical projects are weird. For the future I wish to encourage young people to be proud of their unique way of being in the world and to be passionate about the topics they love.
Is there something about you that’s given you a unique or creative approach to what you do?
Over the course of the last years I have gained a unique perspective across multiple scientific disciplines. Beyond constantly exploring and following my curiosity, creating opportunities for me and the society I live in matters immensely to me.
Were there any challenges when you first entered the field? How have you overcome these, or do they continue to challenge you?
When I first entered the field I quickly needed to learn a lot about the specific queues and management systems of the super computers. Now after having experienced several different computing clusters all these settings are familiar.
What’s the best thing about working in HPC?
My first moment of awe was when after a 3 week long calculation on hundreds of parallel nodes I held the first predictions for quantum tunnelling rates in my hands. I am excited about technology moving so quickly. Nowadays that calculation can be done in a couple of days. And the next thrill is that HPC is part of self-driving cars, drones, and artificial intelligence. HPC is a leading technology for our future.
If there’s one thing about HPC you could change, what would it be?
That all the HPC machines in the chemistry department are small enough to fit in my personal fridge for cooling and that they can be powered with their own heat and solar energy, anywhere in the world.
What’s next for you in HPC – where does your career lead you?
I dream of creating predictive multiscale models together with my team that combine the reliable design of electronic structure and properties of bio-nanomaterials into the in silico design of drugs and airplanes.