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Computing a brighter future for Lebanon

Published online 24 March 2021

Lebanese scientists are making a mark in high-performance computing, but overlapping crises have left international collaboration hanging in the balance.

Kira Walker

Lebanese scientists at CERN. Donations to the fundraiser will support the setup of a computing centre dedicated to research in Lebanon.
Lebanese scientists at CERN. Donations to the fundraiser will support the setup of a computing centre dedicated to research in Lebanon.
CERN
The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment in France and Switzerland has launched a fundraising initiative to support scientific research in Lebanon, in collaboration with the Sharing Knowledge Foundation, Geneva.

The fundraiser will support the High-Performance Computing for Lebanon (HPC4L) Project. Initiated in 2019 to build the country’s research capacity through the development of a high-performance computing centre, but HPC4L is now at risk due to the layered crises the country is grappling with. 

High-performance computing — aggregating computer power — is used to quickly and efficiently solve large problems or analyse extensive datasets in science, engineering, social science and business. 

“In Lebanon, high-performance computing will allow the field of social sciences to expand,” says Martin Gastal, HPC4L project coordinator and manager of the CMS experimental area at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), the world’s largest laboratory dedicated to particle physics research.

HPC4L is a collaboration between CERN, Lebanon’s public sector and four private higher-education institutions: the Lebanese University, the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese American University and Saint Joseph University. 

CERN donated hardware (3,600 cores) to the project, while Lebanon’s Ministry of Telecommunications and state-owned infrastructure operator, OGERO, provided the premises, power and internet. 

The universities were meant to cover the costs of shipping, set-up and training of Lebanese staff to operate the centre independently. As the crises of recent years deepened, these expenses became prohibitive. 

“Finding funding from the universities for the operation is becoming more difficult,” says Yousif Asfour, head of the HPC4L steering committee and chief information officer at the American University of Beirut.

With the project so close to launch, Gastal says they were keen to find a solution, which led to the idea of a fundraiser to help offset the costs.

The fundraiser is targeting the global scientific community and the Lebanese diaspora. It aims to raise USD$50,000, the bare minimum needed to keep the project moving forward, says Gastal.

Since Lebanon joined CERN’s network in 2016, many Lebanese students and professionals have contributed to its projects, and Asfour and Gastal are eager to see the knowledge exchange continue. “Most significant scientific and engineering contributions these days happen through collaboration,” says Asfour.

The centre aims to help stem brain drain from Lebanon. “Today, once you reach a certain stage of competence and expertise in research, you need computing. And if you aren’t computing locally, you go abroad,” says Gastal, “That’s how some countries have been haemorrhaging talent for the last decade.”

Asfour hopes the centre will go beyond retaining Lebanese talent, to also attract others to work with them in Lebanon. “I’m excited about this project. It’s one of those little lights of hope in a very dark time both globally and locally,” he says. 

Donations can be sent to http://fundraiser-lebanon.web.cern.ch 

doi:10.1038/nmiddleeast.2021.33