National stage for SBU’s computer-science center

Numbers game: Stony Brook University's Institute for Advanced Computational Science has landed a role in a national Big Data consortium.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Stony Brook University’s cutting-edge Institute for Advanced Computational Science will play a key role in a national effort to give Big Data power to thousands of new researchers.

The IACS will lend the number-crunching might of its high-speed SeaWulf computer cluster to the Molecular Sciences Software Institute, a new national initiative supported by a five-year, $19.4 million National Science Foundation grant.

All told, the NSF is pouring some $35 million over the next half-decade into collaborative efforts to gain scientific insights through computer simulations, data analytics and visualizations. That includes yearly MSSI grants – the kickoff stipend, announced July 29, weighs in around $5.9 million – and another $16 million or so to create the Science Gateways Community Institute, a similar long-term hub with Big Data vision.

Robert Harrison: Start your computations.

Robert Harrison: Start your computations.

Based at Virginia Tech, the MSSI will serve as a junction for molecular scientists around the country developing new computational tools to crack the Big Data codes behind numerous diseases, climate change and other critical sciences. In addition to Virginia Tech and SBU, the institute will receive collaborative contributions from Iowa State, Rice, Rutgers and Stanford universities, as well as the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Southern California.

It’s an impressive academic lineup worthy of the Big Data challenges inherent to cancer and diabetes and the complexities of climate change. And it’s “very exciting” for SBU to join their ranks, according to Robert Harrison, director of Stony Brook’s IACS and a member of the newly minted MSSI Board of Directors.

“[The MSSI’s] community-oriented and multidisciplinary perspectives are very well aligned with our vision for the IACS,” Harrison said Thursday.

Among the IACS’s specific functions within the national institute will be the development of sustainable, forward-looking hardware and software standards for “parallel computing,” wherein many calculations or processes are carried out simultaneously.

Other MSSI teams will collaborate with code developers and outside industry to create different software frameworks that support the computational molecular sciences community.

The national institute will be managed by Virginia Tech chemistry professor Daniel Crawford, who notes work in “a broad field that includes biomolecular simulation, quantum chemistry and materials science” and envisions “a nexus for science, education and cooperation.”

“The institute will enable computational scientists to tackle problems that are orders of magnitude larger and more complex than those currently within our grasp,” Crawford said, adding the MSSI will “accelerate the translation of basic science into new technologies essential to the vitality of the economy and environment.”

To do that, the institute and its sister SGCI will endeavor to create new software norms that bring the Big Data-unlocking power of multimillion-dollar supercomputers to researchers’ laptops. Rajiv Ramnath, advanced cyberinfrastructure director for the NSF, said the twin institutes will ultimately create tools that allow researchers “to perform investigations that would otherwise be impossible.”

“The institutes will ultimately impact thousands of researchers [and] expand the community of scientists able to perform research on the nation’s cyberinfrastructure,” Ramnath said in a statement.

For the computational scientist, it’s thrilling stuff – and researchers inside SBU’s top computer facility are raring to go, according to Harrison.

“Our team is already heavily engaged with each other to execute the initial planning stage of the project,” the IACS director said. “We are really looking forward to the next step, which is initiating activities within the community.”


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