Pairing massively parallel computational power with cutting-edge visualization technology is expected to result in important advances across a wide spectrum of industries and academic disciplines, and play an important role toward the future growth and prosperity of New York state.
To discuss the impact and promise of supercomputing, Rensselaer in late October hosted a group of leading thinkers and experts for the High Performance Computation Conference.
Held in the new Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, the three-day conference featured presentations by researchers, corporate leaders, and funding institutions around the topic of computation and the opportunities it offers for local, regional, state, and national economic development.
Technical presentations comprised much of the event’s first two days. From Rensselaer’s Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy, Kodosky Constellation Professor Shengbai Zhang spoke about how supercomputer-enabled simulation is accelerating the body of knowledge surrounding molecular dynamics, which in turn could boost the development of new materials that could one day provide viable solutions for solar cell materials and onboard hydrogen storage.
Angel Garcia, senior constellation professor of biocomputation and bioinformatics, presented on the challenges and successes of his research into developing vast molecular dynamics simulations to study the folding of proteins and nucleic acids. Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering Professor Kenneth Jansen spoke about his work into leveraging petascale computing toward the creation of models that can provide engineers with a better predictive capability for fluid dynamics problems. Also representing Rensselaer was Christopher Carothers, associate professor of computer science, who presented on his research and investigations into the scalability of synchronization protocol Time Warp on supercomputers.
Other presenters were from Cornell University, Stony Brook University, Columbia University, New York University, University of Buffalo, along with IBM, Brookhaven National Laboratory, General Electric Global Research, Corning Inc., Gene Network Sciences Inc., and local software firms Kitware and Simmetrix.
Conference attendees toured EMPAC and Rensselaer’s Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, or CCNI. Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson said the pairing of Rensselaer’s two newest platforms, CCNI and EMPAC, will enable human-scale interactive exploration of immersive environments. This new capability, she said, will allow broad exploration in virtually any artistic, scientific, or technical discipline.
“Looking for associations between multiple sets of highly complex data requires massive computing power power we have not only because of the CCNI and our other advanced facilities but because of the open minds and out-of-the-box thinking of our people,” she said.
The third and final day of the conference featured an executive summit, with presentations by and a panel discussion among John Kelly III ’78, senior vice president and director of research at IBM; Walter Polansky ’70, research division acting director with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research; Robert Brammer, vice president and chief technology officer at Northrop Grumman Information Technology Sector; Ed Reinfurt, executive director of the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation; and the Honorable Arthur Gajarsa ’62, Circuit Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The discussion, moderated by Kolb, continued on the theme of computations and economic development.
“This has been a tremendous decade in high-performance computing, but it doesn’t end here,” said Kelly, who said IBM has set a goal of breaching the exascale with a computer that can perform a quadrillion operations per second by 2020.
The next step forward “is all about collaboration; no one person, institution, company, or government can do it alone,” Kelly said. “Together, we have the ability to make New York state the high-powered computing center not just of the country, but of the world.”
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