Jonathan Dursi BSc'94
Blown circuits and burned fingers were a big part of Jonathan growing up years in Halifax. His love of computers that began in the 1980s are to blame. First in junior high and then in the computer lab at St. Patrick’s High School, the SMU grad was free to explore his love of electronics, which quickly blossomed to programming.
But it wasn’t until he studied computer science at the university level, that Dursi began to see the advantages of combining science with computer technology in the lab. He credits the smaller class sizes and excellent mentors at SMU with being able to flesh out some of these ideas early in his education.
After graduating from Saint Mary’s University with a BSc in Math, Physics and Computer Science in 1994, it was onto Queen’s, where he obtained his MSc in Astrophysics and Computational Science. Later, at the University of Chicago, he continued to combine his love of computers and astrophysics, using large-scale computing simulations to understand complex physical systems, and graduating with a PhD in Astrophysics.
The Service of Research
Upon graduating, the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics was lucky to land Dursi as a senior research associate. At this national centre for astronomy and astrophysics research, he lead research projects and developed training programs to assist researchers.
But his career trajectory was headed straight up, and within a few years, Dursi scored a position with the largest supercomputing centre in the country. SciNet hired him as a high performance computing (HPC) expert, where he consulted with research teams across the country. It was the beginning of what has become an essential part of Dursi’s work—applying his knowledge to help solve real world problems. Critical issues such as climate science, forestry, epidemiology, biophysics, mechanical engineering, and astrophysics were routinely examined and discussed.
This passion to combine his education and experience in the service of research have led him to his current posting as the Interim Chief Technology Officer of Compute Canada. “I love academic research but I’ve always found myself drawn to the computational side of things – computation in the service of scientific research,” says Dursi. “I want to solve real scientific problems and use computers to do that.”
In his new role, Dursi is continuing on that same path of integrating advanced computing with academic research, but now he’s doing it on a national HPC platform. “Essentially we match up the technology – computing capability and expertise – with the people who need that technology,” he said. “There is a dizzying amount of expertise and knowledge out there. We have an opportunity here to take research to an entirely new level.”
Beyond the Realm of Science
One of these opportunities is an expansion beyond the realm of science, perhaps collaborating with researchers in the humanities and social sciences as well.
“By its very nature, our work is quite technical, but it’s important to me to reach out to researchers and let them know we are here to help them,” says Dursi. “Computers in the aid of scientific research should be seen as essential infrastructure, just like the telephone system. There when it’s needed.”