May 01, 2009

Award allows researcher access to super computer

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE -- A researcher at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will have access to some of the most powerful computers in the world as he joins a team of scientists working on a variety of issues.

Shaikh Ahmed, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering in the College of Engineering, is one of just four researchers nationwide included in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s first High-Performance Computing Grants Competition. As part of his successful application for the program, which was open to universities associated with Oak Ridge, Ahmed will use the ORNL’s “Jaguar” super computer and other top-end computers and staff housed at the site in Tennessee.

Ahmed will use the massive computing power to conduct harsh-environment nanodevice technology research. The $25,000 grant covers one year of study and holds the possibility of up to two more years of funding for a total of $75,000 provided by the Oak Ridge Associated Universities group. The association is a consortium aimed at pooling resources of 100 major research institutions to advance science and education in partnership with national laboratories.

Ramanarayanan Viswanathan, professor of electrical and computer engineering and interim engineering dean of the college, said the award is very prestigious.

“There was a stiff competition (for the award), with only one out of 10 applications ending up being funded,” Viswanathan said. “This project also fascinates me, as Dr. Ahmed is proposing models to predict the performance of electronic devices by building the models from bottom up, starting at the atomic level. This is an interesting merge of physics and electronic engineering.”

Another exciting aspect of the project involves Ahmed’s graduate students getting access to the super computers, as well.

“They can use these high performance computers operating with huge memory and computing power,” Viswanathan said.

Ahmed will join researchers from the University of Memphis, Florida State University and the University of Michigan on the project. Work can begin as early as this summer.

The association chose the projects based on scientific significance, alignment with the laboratory’s science agenda and the institutions’ research goals, the faculty-student approach each uses and faculty qualifications.

The newly upgraded “Jaguar” super computers the researchers will use operate on the “petascale” level, a major milestone for computing speed on the order of 1,000 trillion calculations per second. The computer power and speed gives researchers the opportunity to achieve discoveries that previously may not have been possible.

“These grant recipients are among the first researchers in the world to have access to petascale supercomputing capabilities,” said ORNL Director Thom Mason. “We look forward to the scientific discoveries that will emerge from the work that they and others do at ORNL. Thanks to ORAU for funding this fantastic program.”