UMass Dartmouth Scientists Awarded $200,000 to Create Campus Super-Computer

The National Science Foundation has awarded $200,000 to UMass Dartmouth to acquire a cutting-edge supercomputer to advance research across the campus.

The National Science Foundation has awarded $200,000 to UMass Dartmouth to acquire a cutting-edge supercomputer to advance research across the campus. 

This supercomputer will harness the power of graphical processing units -- the same processing units existing in every computer and game machine --  to tackle challenging problems in astrophysics, applied mathematics, oceanography, and materials science. 

"This new supercomputer will boost the computing capability of researchers at UMass Dartmouth enormously,'' said Dr. Robert Fisher of the Physics Department, the principal investigator on the grant. "This will truly be a world class resource for our scientists and will place our students at the forefront of simulation-based research." 

The high-performance computer will enable researchers to model complex phenomena and conduct numerical experiments related to medicine, the environment, economic competitiveness, and national security.  It will also provide a platform for expanding interdisciplinary research into such areas as digital-information systems, climate change and environmental observation, computational biology and medicine, and imaging and human-computer interaction. 

The goal of the project, Fisher said, is to unleash the power of graphics processing units (GPUs) that exist within computers and game machines. GPUS possess enormous untapped computational capability, but are now limited to creating graphics on a screen. "Imagine that every Honda Civic carried a Ferrari V12 engine in the trunk, which was never used," Fisher said. "This is essentially the situation with every computer on the planet." 

Fisher said a computer's central processing unit (or CPU) is relatively weak in comparison to the GPU, yet is responsible for carrying out all the hard computations. This new supercomputer will tap the potential of the GPU. "We will be able to boost performance to a level that would not be possible previously without thousands of CPUs," Fisher said. "The power of this new supercomputer will be truly awesome." 

Dr. Fisher led a multidisciplinary team of computational science and engineering faculty members on planning the computer facility and writing the grant proposal. The team spans three colleges/schools and includes: 

Sigal Gottlieb (Mathematics) 
Cheng Wang (Mathematics) 
Gaurav Khanna (Physics) 
Geoffrey Cowles (SMAST) 
Amit Tandon (Physics) 
Saeja Kim (Mathematics) 
Alfa Heryudono (Mathematics) 
Nima Rahbar (Civil Engineering) 

The supercomputer will be housed in the University data center in the Claire T. Carney Library, and will be administered by the campus Computer and Information Technology team led by Andrew Darling. 

An Internal Advisory Board will help plan and guide the use of the shared facility. This board will consist of William Hogan, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; John Farrington, Dean of the School for Marine Sciences and Technology; Robert Peck, Dean of the College of Engineering; Anne Boisvert, director of the University START program, and Lou Petrovic, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research Development. 

The funds were allocated under a special National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation Program made possible by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

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