Indiana Receives Funding for Regional Science Computer Grid

November 1, 2006

The economy of northwest Indiana will be energized thanks to congressional authorization of $5 million to support a computer grid for the area, officials at Purdue and Notre Dame universities announced Wednesday (Nov. 1).

The U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration will award the funding for the Northwest Indiana Computational Grid, bringing federal investment in this project to $6.5 million. The grid links Purdue West Lafayette, Purdue Calumet and Notre Dame with high-speed, high-bandwidth fiberoptic connections and shared scientific resources such as a supercomputer, data storage and visualization tools. The grid also enables researchers at those universities to connect to the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. Businesses also will be able to tap into this resource through industrial partnerships.

Gerry McCartney, Purdue's interim Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer, said "Grid computing allows the computation of scientific data to take place across many computers at different institutions and also allows researchers to gain access to resources at other institutions on the grid. Such grids are an important part of the national cyberinfrastructure."

"Cyberinfrastructure is a critical element of scientific research," McCartney said. "The Northwest Indiana Computational Grid creates new possibilities to address existing problems, especially the issues important to northwest Indiana, such as better use of energy and economic development."

The $5 million award is in addition to the $1.5 million awarded in 2005, bringing the total federal investment to $6.5 million for the grid. The appropriation effort was led in Congress by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., who represents the 1st Congressional District in northwest Indiana. "Pete Visclosky is the critical component in this endeavor, and I am delighted to work with my friend and fellow Hoosier on this important initiative," Lugar said. "These funds will bring a supercomputer network to Indiana on par with very few others in the country due to the high speed at which it operates."

The federal award will be used to acquire new hardware for the grid, such as an SGI Altix supercomputer with 30 terabytes of storage, which will be housed at Purdue in West Lafayette; increased data storage at Notre Dame; access to grid videoconferencing connections at Notre Dame and Purdue Calumet; and new data visualization tools at Purdue Calumet. The funds also provide seed money for a high-performance computing teaching lab at Purdue West Lafayette and for research projects related to the mission of the Northwest Indiana Computational Grid.

Gordon Wishon, Notre Dame Associate Vice President, Associate Provost and CIO said, "This collaboration between researchers at two of the nation's leading research universities vividly demonstrates the value of investments in research infrastructure to the state of Indiana and to the country."

Purdue Calumet and Purdue West Lafayette connect on the grid via Indiana's I-Light fiberoptic network. Notre Dame will connect via the National Science Foundation-funded Starlight fiber network, which also connects the grid to the Argonne National Laboratory. "The interconnection of Notre Dame's Center for Research Computing and storage infrastructure with the Purdue campuses and Argonne represents a new wave of cooperative research," Wishon said.

The Northwest Indiana Computational Grid recently joined the national Open Science Grid, which will give researchers access to national resources.

"Without a robust cyberinfrastructure, Indiana cannot compete in tomorrow's economy," McCartney said. "The computational grid is a powerful partnership among Purdue, Notre Dame, the state of Indiana and the U.S. Department of Energy. We have created a leading regional network that will boost research and economic opportunities in the state. We appreciate that Congressman Visclosky and Senator Lugar have recognized this and have worked with the universities to make this grid possible."

Although scientists are just beginning to harness the grid's power, research has already started in some areas, including:

  • Robert Kramer, director of the Energy Efficiency and Reliability Center at Purdue Calumet, is working to improve the delivery and reliability of electricity by applying 21st century computational approaches to help provide enhancements for conventional electrical transmission load calculations and the communications systems between electrical grids. Using the computational and simulation resources of the grid, Kramer said he hopes to help improve the capacity of current electrical grids and reduce expensive investments in new transmission and electricity generating infrastructure.
  • A biometrics research group at Notre Dame is the host for the largest open research database of biometric signatures in the world, which includes fingerprint processing, face and iris recognition, and infrared imaging. The storage and computational resources of the new grid will allow more organization, processing and delivery of these resources. The group is led by Kevin Bowyer, Notre Dame's Schubmehl-Prien Chair of Computer Science and Engineering, and Patrick Flynn, professor of computer science and engineering.
  • In 2006 a team at Purdue West Lafayette led by Christoph Hoffmann, a professor of computer science, used the computational resources of the grid to conduct a scientific simulation of the crash of a commercial airliner into the World Trade Center North Tower on Sept. 11, 2001. This simulation will allow engineers to better understand how the building's core structure responded to the impact.
  • Indiana state climatologist Dev Niyogi, an assistant professor of agronomy and earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue West Lafayette, plans to use a newly acquired supercomputer to conduct more detailed analysis of the climatology of severe weather and drought events. This will allow Indiana farmers to make more informed decisions that Niyogi estimates could save as much as $100 million per year.

Wishon said these projects illustrate the benefits of collaborative research. "While institutions of higher learning may compete for research dollars on some fronts, the northwest Indiana grid project is a refreshingly cooperative effort that we believe is a prime example of what is possible when researchers from different organizations work on complementary projects in the same virtual space," he said.

Plans also are in place to hold discussions with the businesses being incubated in the Purdue Technology Center of Northwest Indiana in Merrillville to assess their potential for participating in the grid for research and development projects and work force development.