Discovery and innovation to quicken with supercomputer’s $1-million upgrade

A $1-million upgrade to Clemson University’s acclaimed supercomputer, the “Palmetto Cluster,” is expected to help researchers quicken the pace of scientific discovery and technological innovation in a broad range of fields, from developing new medicines to creating advanced materials.

New hardware that could be in place as early as spring will add even more power to the Palmetto Cluster. Even before the upgrade, it rated eighth in the nation among academic supercomputers, according to the twice-annual Top500 list.

The upgrade is funded by the National Science Foundation and will support more than 370 faculty members and students who are working on a broad range of research topics with over $14-million in funding.

Supercomputers are increasingly important because they allow researchers to solve complex, mathematically intensive problems in a relatively short period of time.

“A problem that might take 10 days on a conventional computer could take a few minutes on a supercomputer,” said Amy Apon, chair of the Division of Computer Science in the School of Computing.

Apon played a leading role in securing the funding for the Palmetto Cluster’s upgrade, serving as principal investigator on the grant. It’s the second $1-million grant in five years that Apon has helped Clemson land through the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation Program.

“Clemson has a history of providing high-performance computing resources,” she said. “We’ve been doing this now for more than a decade, but these resources are expensive and have to be renewed every 3-5 years. It is time for a refresh.

“This most recent grant provides Clemson the resources it needs to continue offering the high-performance computing on which our researchers have come to depend.”

Researchers plan to use the upgrade to strengthen relationships with industry and broaden collaborations in the state, including one with Claflin University. The upgrade will also enhance the development of new curricula in computational and data-enabled science and engineering.

Russell Kaurloto, vice president for information technology and chief information officer at Clemson, said the upgrade positions the University to have major impact.

“This highly collaborative project is a key enabler for Clemson to rise to the next level of research productivity,” he said. “It underscores the University’s continued involvement to support advanced computing research and education.”

Eileen Kraemer, the C. Tycho Howle Director of the School of Computing, said the grant  will bring leading-edge technologies to Clemson.

“This upgrade will help enhance Clemson’s reputation as a national leader in high-performance computing,” she said. “Dr. Apon and her multidisciplinary team are helping keep the University’s computing resources on the cutting edge.”

Co-principal investigators on the grant are Dvora Perahia, Mashrur Chowdhury, Kuang-Ching “K.C.” Wang and Jim Pepin, Clemson’s chief technical officer, is also expected to play a crucial role in implementation of the award.

Perahia, a professor of physical chemistry and physics, is leading the material research effort.

“The new computational power provided by this grant will enable state-of-the-art, innovating research that pushes the boundaries of current limits,” she said. “Further, it will enable the development of innovative computer science algorithms and technologies that facilitate the processing of large data.

“All this puts Clemson researchers at the forefront of their respective fields. The research accelerated by the award will impact the advancement of smart materials, medicine, the environment and the energy economy.”

Cynthia Young, the founding dean of the College of Science, concurred.

“From complex genetics research to Big Data transfer, the Palmetto Cluster plays a crucial role in our ability to lead world-class research at Clemson,” Young said. “This support from NSF helps advance CU Science forward by enhancing excellence in discovery and innovation.”

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said the upgrades will support critical research.

“This grant provides Clemson with the opportunity to acquire major instrumentation that supports the research and research education goals of the University and its collaborators,” he said. “I congratulate Dr. Apon and her team on the grant.”