MU receives federal grant for supercomputer

Students and faculty will be able to further studies in bioinformatics, geoinformatics, high performance computing and engineering applications.

Grants from the National Science Foundation totalling $1 million will allow MU to buy a new supercomputer and hire a cyber-infrastructure engineer in hopes of advancing research and education.

Chi-Ren Shyu, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department chairman and principal investigator of the grant, submitted a proposal to the NSF asking for funding to support research activities related to big data applications.

MU won two grants — one totalling nearly $400,000 and another more than $600,000 — after beating out universities across the nation. The university matched the funding by contributing more than $250,000.

Tim Middlekoop, an assistant professor whose technical focus is in high performance and scientific computing, said the new high performance computer will combine federated hybrid cloud services with MU’s existing supercomputer.

He said this new system would seamlessly integrate local and remote users as well as public cloud infrastructures for more efficient research results.

“What is unique about the computer is that it’s an experimental hybrid not for the purpose of production, but just to help students get used to researching with this type of technology,” he said.

Middlekoop said universities like Harvard University use this type of high tech computer. He said Harvard’s high performance system cost $100 million.

“Since we can’t compete (on) Harvard’s level due (to) funding, these grants are a steppingstone in order to prepare us for bigger research projects in the future,” he said.

The new computer will enable education in courses like bioinformatics, geoinformatics, high performance computing and engineering applications.

About 16 researchers and 145 students from various engineering departments are expected work with the new computer.

The new cyber-infrastructure engineer will assist researchers in adapting to the network for the supercomputer and analyzing its efficiency.

Prasad Calyam, assistant professor of computer science, said the grants will help the Computer Science Department meet its need for new equipment.

“There has been an urgent need for the state-of-the-art supercomputer equipment for at least two years among the (researchers),” he said. “With this (computer,) you’ll be able to do things you could never have done before … We’re happy it finally came through.”

According to the NSF, the grant for the hybrid computer is estimated to expire by 2017. The research coordinators hope to make the equipment accessible to all MU students and faculty by 2016.

“We hope to be able to make this hybrid computer research system available to everyone at MU in order for different majors to experience better research possibilities before the funding expires,” Calyam said.

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