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$6.5M Northwest Indiana Supercomputer Grid Gears Up

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., Dec. 20 -- A $6.5 million computer grid linking Purdue University, Purdue Calumet and the University of Notre Dame to government research facilities through a high-speed fiber optic network is expected to be operational in January and will give researchers access to superfast computer modeling that may help diminish the severity of future terrorist attacks and prevent large-scale power blackouts in the Midwest.

Congress has appropriated $6.5 million from the US Department of Energy (DoE) for the Northwest Indiana Computational Grid (NWICG) in the past two years, including $5 million approved in late November.

The grid will connect Purdue's West Lafayette campus, Purdue Calumet in Hammond and Notre Dame in South Bend. The grid also will connect all three institutions to US government research facilities, including the DoE's Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. It is expected to eventually serve as a gateway to other high-performance supercomputer grids throughout the country for researchers at the schools. The collaboration is led by a steering committee of academic, technical and administrative experts from each of the three campuses.

The grid will be connected to Argonne and other grid-computing resources through StarLight, a fiber-optic cable network made possible through the National Science Foundation. The collective power of the grid means that researchers at the universities will have the tools to explore and address some of society's most complex problems, said Doug Sharp, assistant vice chancellor for information and instructional technologies at Purdue Calumet.

The NWICG will provide advanced computational resources to faculty, as well as high-performance computing capabilities to corporate and governmental users throughout the northwest Indiana region, according to Sharp. The grid will offer high-speed networking, high-performance computer clusters, simulation-based research capabilities, enhanced visualization and enormous data-storage resources.

For example, the grid will have the capacity to do sophisticated computer modeling and simulation for chemical, biological and radiological dispersion during a terrorist attack. It will help authorities predict the spread of a toxic substance, determine the threat to the public and develop life-saving next steps.

Another research project will investigate the use of the NWICG to monitor in real-time the Midwest power grid and develop predictors and new state estimators. Currently, electrical power generation and distribution are being pushed to the limit by demands from corporate and residential customers, and need to operate more efficiently. This research project develops the tools needed to increase the efficiency of the grid by better predicting demand, monitoring power flow and distribution and accounting for factors such as the weather that influence demand and transmission capacity.

Other applications include transportation and environmental studies for use in city planning, health-care management, biocomputing and the study of protein structures for synthesis of pharmaceuticals and research in advanced carbon materials. Those involved say having the grid in place is expected to be a tool for economic development in the region as well.

Among the partnering institutions, the grid project exists within larger initiatives to boost high-performance computer capabilities. Notre Dame is developing a center for research computing support campuswide. At Purdue West Lafayette, the new Cyber Center was recently announced as part of the institution's Discovery Park multidisciplinary research effort.

Each campus will take the lead on a particular part of the grid's overall operations. For example, Purdue West Lafayette will focus on high-speed processing, Notre Dame will focus on data storage and Purdue Calumet will attend to grid users' visualization needs.

"We'll be able to be connected in a way that we haven't been before," Sharp said. "With the processing at West Lafayette, the storage at Notre Dame and the visualization at Calumet, the grid will work as one piece of technology by interconnecting these individual high-speed networks. And the relationship with Argonne is really like having a fourth partner. Therein lies the economy of this project -- that we can all share our combined resources."

Jeff Kantor, vice president for research and graduate studies at Notre Dame, said the grid will boost research. The South Bend region is home to several orthopedic companies that have existing partnerships with both Purdue and Notre Dame. "Having this kind of resource available to our region dramatically advances the research infrastructure," Kantor said. "The design of orthopedic devices, from an engineering perspective, is an example of where we can lead with simulation studies and computations work that will be supported through the collaboration of the grid."

Chris Hoffmann, a computer science professor at Purdue West Lafayette with expertise in geometric computing and modeling, has done simulations of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon. He previously used computational resources of another grid to complete these models, which took up to 68 hours to simulate one-fourth of a second of the actual events that day. He said the NWICG will bring exciting new prospects to his colleagues across the three campuses and will raise the bar of computational capability in Indiana.

"We want to be known as the place that has this expertise," he said. "Simulation is the third paradigm of science, along with the theoretical and the experimental. Instead of running an experiment, we run a simulation by computations to see what will happen."

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Dec 2005
ArgonneBasic ScienceCommunicationsDOEgridIndianamodelingNews & FeaturesNorthwest Indiana Computational GridNotre DameNWICGPurduesupercomputersuperfast

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