UH Gets Faster Computational Power, Student Training Benefits

NSF Grant Funds Purchase of New High-Performance Computer

Margaret Cheung with students
Margaret Cheung, associate professor of physics in the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, talks with her lab students Andrei Gasic (far left) and Fabio Zegarra (middle). (Credit: Chris Watts)
A grant from the National Science Foundation will provide University of Houston research groups with faster computational power and offer invaluable training benefits for students.

The $950,000 Major Research Instrument grant funds the purchase of a new high-performance computer (HPC) that will be equipped with new technology, called accelerators, which promises to be the prevailing trend of the future.

A minimum of 23 research groups, from UH departments as diverse as physics, chemistry, biology and computer science, stand to benefit from the acquisition of this HPC, a fact that is a testament to just how integral computation is to today’s era of research.

“Computational science is useful because we can model, predict and analyze what data means. When you have a massive amount of data, the faster the computer, the better the programming skills, the more efficiently it will facilitate the application,” said Margaret Cheung, associate professor of physics in the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the principal investigator for this grant. Co-principal investigators are professors Barbara Chapman from computer science), Eric Bittner from chemistry, Lars Grabow from chemical engineering and Pradeep Sharma from mechanical engineering.

New and existing research areas to benefit from this new HPC include analyzing and simulating space radiation; predicting the shape and behavior of proteins inside our cells; modeling new materials to meet alternative energy demands; developing more efficient programming methods of using accelerators; and modeling social and biological systems.

The accelerators in this new HPC – called graphics processing units – enable computers to run faster while being both compact and cost-effective.

“Accelerators are the trend of the future,” Cheung said. “If we really want to train the next generation of computational scientists, then we’d better train them to utilize this computer.”

These accelerators need specific modifications to computer programs in order to run properly. The knowledge of how to create these programs, and how to modify existing programs, is where the need for training comes in. Training opportunities on the HPC will be widely available, as part of the University’s ongoing commitment to equipping students with the skills necessary to compete in today’s world.

UH students are welcome to attend workshops at no extra cost. One of the upcoming training opportunities, a workshop targeting seismic research codes called “Directives and Tools For Accelerators,” will be offered on October 12, followed by a one-day intensive coaching session for interested teams on October 13. Both will be held in the UH Alumni Center at 3100 Cullen Blvd., across the street from Entrance 16.

In addition, the University also holds free workshops, offered by the Center for Advanced Computing and Data Systems, to enable students from all disciplines to learn programming skills. Students who are affiliated with a research group on campus will receive free access to the high-Performance computing resources.

“I think every undergraduate student should learn a programming language, no matter their major, in order to be competitive after graduation,” Cheung said. “I also encourage students, in order to have formal training, to participate in undergraduate research. The outcome of research is to learn by making mistakes, to learn by exploring, and to learn by discovery.”

In addition to the UH community, the computing resources will be shared with the University of Houston-Clear Lake, Texas Southern University and Prairie-View A&M University, as an initiative to help broaden the participation of students from underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Editor’s note: Story courtesy of Rachel Fairbank, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

About the University of Houston
The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation’s best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation’s fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 42,700 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country. For more information about UH, visit the university’s newsroom.

About the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
The UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, with 193 ranked faculty and nearly 6,000 students, offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in the natural sciences, computational sciences and mathematics. Faculty members in the departments of biology and biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, earth and atmospheric sciences, mathematics and physics conduct internationally recognized research in collaboration with industry, Texas Medical Center institutions, NASA and others worldwide.

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