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LUMI brings new possibilities for social sciences

When talking about computational sciences, we often think of mathematics, statistics, physics and chemistry. However, a huge increase in the amount of data has brought computational methods also to other branches of science, including human sciences, as the digitalisation of society changes research conducted in social sciences. EuroHPC’s new, extremely powerful supercomputer LUMI and its ecosystem will support the development of social sciences and help researchers to benefit from the possibilities that LUMI’s computation capabilities and data management environment offers.

In social science, both qualitative and quantitative research methods have been popular. Social scientists have been using interviews and media articles as well as polls and election registers. However, now digitalisation creates new material, i.e. data, in an ever-growing speed. The increased amount of data offers new research topics also for human sciences. New data from various sources enables us to come up with completely new research questions and methods, which require computation. Due to these developments, computational methods are used more and more also in social sciences.

Matti Nelimarkka, lecturer in computational methods in social sciences at the University of Helsinki, states that social scientists need to start understanding digital platforms better. Nowadays people carry many different sensors with them, including smart phones and watches. These devices collect vast amounts of data from us, and that data can be used also in social research. In addition to new research topics, more traditional materials such as text can be better analysed with new technology.

Matti Nelimarkka

Caption: Matti Nelimarkka is a lecturer in computational methods in social sciences at the University of Helsinki. Copyright: Mikael Kanerva, CSC

LUMI supercomputer supports also social sciences

One of the world’s most powerful supercomputers for research use will be built in the CSC’s data center during 2020–2021. The computer will be acquired together with the European Union and a consortium of nine countries. The computational power of LUMI will be manifold compared to the top current computers. A whole ecosystem will be built around LUMI. This means that researchers will have access not only to computational power, but also data management, support for using the infrastructure and cooperation between companies and universities.

LUMI research infrastructure supports also social scientists. With the new supercomputer, computational research becomes faster and more efficient. LUMI infrastructure provides a possibility to solve completely new research problems. “LUMI’s support services and infrastructures help every social scientist to exploit new possibilities that computation offers. This includes scale and speed but also using computation to utilize completely new approaches”, says Nelimarkka.

Nelimarkka emphasizes the importance of data management services and the need for support in data processing and in using the research infrastructure. A researcher might have a great research topic in mind but no experience in using computational methods. An important part of the LUMI ecosystem is the support and training for researchers, so that the enhanced research infrastructure can truly be used by all academia.

Cooperation provides new possibilities

One of the objectives of LUMI is to facilitate international and business–academia cooperation. Data management can be quite time consuming and can cause problems with cooperation as well. If the data sets are stored in every researcher’s personal computer, cooperation becomes more difficult. International cooperation is also sometimes challenging, since different countries have different rules when it comes to data management. LUMI’s data management services and international character mitigate these challenges and, thus, the time saved can be used to actually carry out the research.

There is a lot of unused potential in cooperation between companies and academia. Nelimarkka notes that companies own most of the data and that cooperation is a possibility for researchers to access this data. On the other hand, companies do not always know what to do with all the data they have acquired. This is something where the researchers can help. There is a strong will to utilize LUMI in cooperation between academia and business as much as possible. Cooperation can help researchers to achieve significant new findings and companies to develop their products and processes or produce completely new innovations.

Author: Ville Virtanen, CSC

Watch the video of researcher Matti Nelimarkka telling how computational methods and LUMI supercomputer might be used in social sciences:

This interview is part of an interview series, where different LUMI use cases will be introduced.