SCS Acquires High-Speed Computer System

Posted: October 13, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

To run highly complex calculations in areas as diverse as bioagent dispersion, climate modeling and prediction and hemodynamics (a branch of physiology that deals with circulation of the blood), George Mason’s School of Computational Sciences (SCS) has purchased an SGI Altix computer system as the foundation of a three-year initiative to build a high-performance computing center.

The driving factor behind the purchase is Mason’s goal to teach and empower research as well as to enhance widespread collegiate collaboration with other leading universities and institutions and government laboratories, many of which have this system.

“Having an Altix system will allow us to get our young professors and new ideas and innovation moving in exciting new directions,” says Paul Schopf, assistant dean for research in SCS and professor of oceanography. “We are a school of computational sciences, which means that we want answers to scientific questions. Time to solution, from the concept to the coding to data management and the delivery of results, is our key metric. The SGI Altix and InfiniteStorage speed up everything.”

SCS collaborates with such leading institutions as Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Naval Research Lab and a number of U.S. Department of Defense labs. Faculty researchers also use computer resources at NASA Ames’ Project Columbia and NASA Goddard, which both have SGI Altix systems. All Altix systems run the Linux operating environment.

The new and ongoing research the SGI Altix will be running at SCS includes:

  • Bioagent Dispersion Simulation. To study contaminant transport requires intense grid calculations. Simulations are made of midtown/downtown areas to predict where a potential cloud of poisonous material goes in the first 10 minutes after release. The simulations are done to answer vital first responder questions and improve community preparedness.
  • Climate Dynamics and Climate Modeling. The faculty collaborates with NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Science Foundation on climate modeling and prediction, such as El Niño forecasting, and seasonal to decadal climate forecasting. Faculty associated with the Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies have recently been awarded a large grant from NASA’s Modeling and Prediction program, in which the climate dynamics faculty, using the SGI Altix, will collaborate with NASA Goddard on developing a new climate model.
  • Hemodynamics. In an unusual application of computational fluid dynamics, a patient’s radiological image data (CAT scans, MRIs, angio, etc.) are used to understand the flow patterns in veins and arteries using fluid dynamics codes. These simulations serve as a basis for pre- and postoperative planning as well as a fundamental research environment to understand the clinical relevance of flow patterns in the pathogenesis of arterial diseases.
  • Molecular Dynamics. The assembly of Alzheimer’s polypeptides into clusters called fibrils is being simulated in the lab. Understanding how small proteins gather into fibrils associated with diseases may lead to discoveries of how to slow or halt the formations.

Other disciplines that will be using the SGI Altix system include hydrodynamics, focusing on designing naval ships and oil rigs to withstand highly turbulent seas; cellular modeling, to improve the understanding of heart disease; and complex explosion analysis, to explore air flows and materials impacts in analysis of terrorist scenarios. Additional areas include space sciences; computer design of materials and fluids, including nanotechnology; and hazardous release modeling.

“The important thing about the Altix that distinguishes it from other machines is the fact that it’s a shared-memory machine,” says Rainald Löhner, professor of computational sciences and informatics and chair of the Fluids and Materials Program. “In my group, we do very complex multidisciplinary problems, such as fluids combined with structures, and it becomes very difficult to do them on a distributed memory machine. It was also important to have Linux because we all use Linux in the academic community.”

As part of the three-year initiative, a new research building, Research I, is currently under construction at the Fairfax Campus and is expected to open next summer. The new computer system will be reinstalled at the new building.

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