Springfield, Ohio —
Speed. Acceleration. Impact. Terms normally reserved for NASCAR or space flight have taken new meaning at Wittenberg University thanks to a grant recently received by the Department of Computer Science from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The $190,000 grant is part of an effort to create a cutting-edge curriculum in which technologies normally used for high-end graphics, video games, animations and networking can be used to speed scientific discovery. Director of Computational Science Eric Stahlberg led the innovative effort and orchestrated a partnership with Clemson University to integrate essential concepts for parallel computing across its curriculum.
Parallel computing is the approach of using multiple computer processors simultaneously to speed applications and shorten the time it takes to get to meaningful results. Parallel and accelerated computing technologies have become commonplace with the increased availability of multicore and graphics processors. They are seen as essential in the ongoing efforts to boost performance of computer applications from the smallest desktop to the largest supercomputers.
“It’s like building a house with one person. It would take a very long time to complete,” said Assistant Professor of Computer Science Steven Bogaerts. “However, if you put 20 people on the same task, it goes much quicker.”
Awarded in August 2009, the grant has led to projects that have already been well-received among industry professionals and peers alike. The approach, which seeks to introduce parallel computing as a new fundamental concept across nine existing courses, helps Wittenberg students get a leg up on computing, even in introductory classes.
Clemson and industry partners SRC Computers, Avetec, OpenFGA and Oak Ridge National Lab are providing Wittenberg students experiential learning opportunities and guidance to ensure they are prepared to meet future professional challenges. Chief among those experiential learning opportunities are internships, from which feedback will be gathered about student preparation. These insights will be used to further refine the curriculum.
The curriculum enhancements also address concerns expressed by leading researchers that undergraduates are too often underprepared to effectively use parallel computing technologies in graduate school and industry. That feedback further motivated Stahlberg to pursue the grant.
“It is important to prepare not only computer scientists, but also those students in other disciplines who increasingly rely on computation to recognize the potential of parallel computing,” he said. “The students today will be the innovators for tomorrow, and it is essential that these students have an appreciation of the technologies that will increasingly impact their disciplines.”
The curriculum development and internship support provided by the NSF grant is bolstered by a new state-of-the-art computing platform at Wittenberg that was secured with support from the United States Department of Energy and the state of Ohio through the regional Future Jobs initiative. The new system, dubbed WARP II, has the latest multi-core processors from Intel and high-end general purpose graphics processors from Nvidia. Reconfigurable computing capabilities will be added to the system and placed in the hands of students and faculty to learn and research at the cutting edge of emerging computing technologies.
Applications include image processing, bioinformatics, computational chemistry, virtual reality, simulations and data analysis – the first areas that will feel the impact of the new curriculum. With a large cohort of Choose Ohio First scholars who have just started their educational experience at Wittenberg in the last two years, the project is aptly timed to make a major impact.
Written by: Ryan Maurer and Hillary Monnin ’12