The Wire @ WPI Online
VOLUME 13, NO. 1     DEC 1999

IBM supercomputer pushes WPI to the cutting edge


From left, WPI UNIX Systems Administrator Jon Bartelson, IBM Global Services Account SSR Mark Ottman, Walker, Malcolm Beaulieu, Marthematical Sciences Department computer operations manager.

WPI recently received its first superconputer, an IBM RS/6000 SP. The massively parallel computer, housed in Fuller Laboratories, includes 16 Power3 nodes incorporating 32 processors. It is based on the same technology as Deep Blue, the IBM computer that beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a 1996 match. It will enable researchers at WPI to carry out large-scale computations that previously required access to supercomputers located at national laboratories or other universities.

Initially, the computer will significantly advance research in computational modeling within the Mathematical Sciences Department, especially fluid mechanics, materials and coupled fluid-structure interactions. "Ultimately, I see the entire campus using it to do cutting-edge research of various kinds," says Homer Walker, head of the Mathematical Sciences Department. Researchers from other departments may employ the technology to uncover the causes of accidental fires and explosions, learn why plaque causes human arteries to collapse, or improve the design of highway traffic barriers.

The $1.34 million grant for the computer came from IBM's Shared University Research Program, which provided $1.1 million in hardware and software, augmented with funding from United Technologies Corp., the National Science Foundation and WPI. Walker and mathematical sciences professors Ming-Hui Chen, Mayer Humi, Robert Lipton and Dalin Tang were the principal investigator and co-PIs, respectively, for the NSF portion of the grant.

History repeats itself

In 1959, under the direction of Elliott L. Buell, head of the Mathematics Department, WPI installed its first digital computer. The arrival of the IBM 610 Autopoint, with its 80 storage registers and its ability multiply two 31-digit numbers in less than a second, heralded a new era in research at WPI. It was quickly running 40 hours a week performing computations for faculty in every department.

Three decades later, the receipt of another IBM computer, also obtained through the efforts of a math department head, has opened the door for yet another leap in WPI's research capabilities.

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