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  • Frontiers Trip to NCSA

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    This year, both the graduate and advancement track MSTM students are eagerly looking forward to experience field trips to promising research facilities and emerging companies, organized as part of Frontiers in Technology initiative. Through this blog, I would like to describe our recent visit to the NCSA facility, located on the university campus and well known for its accomplishments in pioneering high performing computing & simulation research.

    To provide a brief overview, supercomputers are capable of performing quadrillions of calculations per second. Supercomputers are a boon to researchers and these high performance computing solutions are envisioned to be accelerating discovery and innovation in science, engineering, industry and education for the next five to ten years. Since NCSA’s establishment in 1986, this science and engineering discovery environment has complemented scientific research work through virtual systems that can be used to interactively share computing, data visualization, and other resources/services. Typical examples of scientific visualization projects that NCSA is engaged in includes: combining Doppler radar data and simulation to better predict  severe storms, predicting seismic hazards through 3-D models, determining the structure of the rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus, assisting in solar flares exploration and space forecasts, to name a few.

    As first part of our field trip, we were briefed by Evan Burness, Program Manager- Private Sector Program and 2010 MSTM alum, on NCSA’s operations involved in manning several supercomputers, developing and improving software, in addition to assisting researchers in making their breakthrough discoveries. Evan Burness was a seasoned speaker and his insight into how NCSA helps companies create products through leveraging of product life cycle capabilities was impressive. In his talk, Evan gave examples of how NCSA helps in turning the bleeding edge into cutting edge research for industrial partners including Intel, nVidia, AMD, Mayo Clinic, Nimbis Services, and many more.

    We were thrilled to visit the Advanced Super computation building housing the hardware equipment and truly intrigued to visualize the potential behind Blue Waters (world’s most powerful petascale supercomputer) in revolutionizing advanced supercomputing applications. With more than 300,000 cores in the processor, the Blue Waters supercomputing engine stands out to be an incredible resource for deploying peta scale supercomputing skills to further advance university-led research & innovation. We also could visualize the Ember Computing system, a highly parallel shared memory supercomputer that can aid genomics and transcriptomics research. Ember supercomputer serves as an invaluable computing system with 1536 cores and 8 terabytes of memory space spread across four nodes. We were enlightened about the precautionary measures to be taken while visiting supercomputing facilities and educated on key parameters for using supercomputing systems. We also got an opportunity to interact with NCSA employees and brainstorm through installation, infrastructure-related queries and discuss upcoming applications/projects that Blue Waters will be able to sustain.

    Our field trip to NCSA can be rightly summed up as an interactive and creativity-driven experiential visit to a supercomputing center that is uniquely positioned to provide MSTM students with a challenging practical experience. As MSTM students begin to embark upon many such exciting field trips throughout this academic year, I would like to encourage MSTM students’ thought-process to focus upon utilizing core business concepts learned in classrooms towards thorough analysis of any manufacturing process or technology framework gained through industrial visits.  I am sure that my MSTM friends will agree that the NCSA fieldtrip has imparted us today with crucial insights about industrial needs fulfilled through supercomputing design and operational capabilities and upcoming technology frontiers fieldtrips will help expand our learning curve and eventually build a great camaraderie among participants. 

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