The Dylan Bucci Grid Computing Club at Sisler Cyber Academy

Sisler High School’s Cyber Academy (Winnipeg, MB) has expanded their partnership with World Community Grid by starting a computing club to honor one of their late classmates. They have spread WCG awareness to their local community as they believe learning about grid computing at school has many positive effects.

The World Community Grid is a powerful computing platform that enables the public to support large-scale science from their own home or office. Combining individual contributions with those of large organizations, WCG condenses computational time needed by scientists to answer the world’s most pressing questions. In addition, partnering with universities and high schools enables youth outreach and education programs that help prepare the next generation.

The World Community Grid is refining the definition of WCG partners – from scientific partners (universities and research institutions that run research projects on the grid), to funding partners (e.g., Distributive) and contributing partners (e.g., volunteer teams and organizations providing unused computing resources). We also aim to expand our collaboration with high schools.

Sisler High School’s Cyber Academy in Winnipeg, MB, Canada has been collaborating with WCG for many years, not only by donating substantial computing capacity but by engaging students with an understanding of high-performance computing and the science it enables. WCG is immensely grateful for their commitment to supporting world-changing research and sharing the platform with their local community. We recently interviewed Sisler Cyber Academy Instructor Robert Esposito and Grade 12 student Eric Easter to discuss how they integrated citizen science into their curriculum and student culture.

Sisler’s involvement with WCG started in 2015 with a grade 9 project requiring students to set up WCG on several computers. In 2018, Dylan Bucci, a 10th grade student at Sisler Cyber Academy, decided to get involved with WCG. In addition to wanting to support the goals of WCG in helping with early diagnosis of cancer, Dylan had a personal motivation since many of his family and friends had passed away from this disease. He spent many hours of his free time reconfiguring a dozen donated servers, and within a year, he contributed 168 years of processing time to World Community Grid’s cancer research (CTV news Winnipeg). He shared his enthusiasm and interest in the WCG with other students, and the volunteer base started to grow rapidly. In 2019, Dylan along with Mr. Esposito became the first volunteers to meet Dr. Jurisica and the MCM team at Krembil Research Institute in Toronto.

Dylan Bucci, Sisler Cyber Academy instructor Robert Esposito, and Dr. Igor Jurisica during their tour of Krembil Research Institute

Sadly, in August 2020 Dylan was diagnosed with Stage 4 Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that occurs in bones or the soft tissue around them. Cancer had rapidly metastasized to his hips, spine, pelvis, ribs, lungs, and further up his arm. Despite treatments and his relentless fight, Dylan passed away on February 19, 2022, at the age of nineteen. Although Dylan was not able to achieve all his dreams and potential, he has inspired many students to continue his mission.

To carry on Dylan’s legacy, Mr. Esposito started the Dylan Bucci Grid Computing Club, which teaches new students about the WCG, how to use the BOINC platform to support scientific discoveries, and discusses new developments in research initiatives. They have a notable number of student members, including Eric Easter who acts as the club’s Student Lead and helps manage the club’s equipment. Involvement with WCG projects is so high, students have expressed interest in another trip to Krembil, following in Dylan’s footsteps. Mr. Esposito said he would be thrilled to take new students on that trip so they can learn more and be inspired by meeting the scientists who directly benefit from their support of the WCG.

To increase student interest in grid computing platforms, Sisler has hosted in-school competitions to see who can donate the most computing power within a limited time (similar to an event students at Stockholm Science & Innovation School in Sweden a held few years earlier). The Sisler Cyber Academy team also entered Compute for the Cure 2021, a two-week-long MCM donation competition. Even as a relatively small organization, they managed to achieve second place, outperforming teams from several larger organizations. The students were extremely passionate about the competition and enlisted many others into their teams, such as their other teachers and their computer gaming friends. Mr. Esposito reported that this competitive drive is a massively influential motivator for the students, and encourages those who might be apprehensive towards grid computing to give it a try.

A screenshot of the final results of Compute for the Cure 2021, where the Sisler Academy team ranked second, despite competing with many teams from larger organizations.

Mr. Esposito believes that grid computing can be more than just an extracurricular activity for students to learn about. WCG can also be directly integrated into any technology curriculum. For example, teachers could utilize WCG as an all-encompassing class technology project. A class WCG project would involve learning about computer hardware, software, networking, and cyber security. He also believes it’s an ideal cross-curricular project which incorporates both science and technology. Eric, who used WCG at school for competitions and recreational use, said he learned valuable technical knowledge while contributing to a good cause. 

Eric decided to build a custom grid machine that utilizes a combination of central and graphical processing power. There was a lot of trial and error during the design and build process. Eric spent a grueling number of hours researching and testing various settings to achieve optimal stability at peak computational power.

Eric hopes to encourage more schools to introduce grid computing into their curriculum, for the benefits it would provide to global research efforts, and to students seeking to contribute to research on health and sustainability with their computer, Android, or Raspberry Pi devices.

Eric Easter, student leader of the Dylan Bucci Computing Club configuring his GPU cluster.

We would like to thank Mr. Esposito and Eric for providing the material and images used in this article. If you would like to help them, they accept donations for new computers and graphics cards through the Children's Heritage Fund in memory of Dylan Bucci. You can also contact them through their website.

We aim to provide an exciting platform for motivating the new generation. If you are a teacher or a student who is interested, or if you know those that might be, please contact us directly. 

WCG team