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Grant allows college to share HPC with ACM

Barry McNamara
01/08/10
MONMOUTH, Ill. — Monmouth College professor Chris Fasano has already made news for the high-performance computing (HPC) capabilities he has brought to campus. Now, the chair of the physics department has his sights set on a broader goal.
Fasano’s proposal for a $12,500 grant to host a collaborative two-day HPC workshop was recently approved by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s FaCE (Faculty Career Enhancement) Steering Committee. Titled “Developing a High Performance Computing Consortium for Multi-Disciplinary Applications on ACM Campuses,” the proposal will take what Monmouth is doing and help bring it to other colleges in the ACM.

“This grant opens many doors for the ACM — it is very exciting,” said Fasano. “HPC has the potential to change the manner in which we live our lives, conduct our research, collaborate with colleagues and teach the academically well-prepared, intellectually engaged students that we attract to ACM colleges.”

Fasano anticipates strong interest in the workshop, with attendees coming not only from traditionally computationally intensive fields, but also from newer computation-intensive disciplines like biology, economics, visual arts and media.

“HPC will allow us to model complex systems to solve some of the most important problems that face our world today,” said Fasano. “HPC may dramatically improve our ability to model and understand our economy, to develop viable energy sources and to engineer new drugs and treatments.”

The professor noted that the benefits of HPC are not limited to science and engineering, but have “already begun to enable new artistic expression in music and the visual arts, as well as the creation of virtual worlds.”

His proposal points out that “study after study showed that virtually all businesses – large and small – that adopt HPC consider it indispensable for their ability to compete and survive. If the United States is going to compete successfully in the global economy, HPC usage must be pervasive across industries and within industries.”

Last summer, Fasano was quoted extensively a Chronicle of Higher Education article that discussed how supercomputers – once multimillion-dollar investments that were affordable only for elite universities and government labs – have now become common.

Fasano developed Monmouth’s supercomputer using more than 100 Sun UltraSparc II processors. He explained that MC’s type of parallel computer is becoming the norm in the world of physics, replacing the previous standard of having one extremely fast processor. The parallel computer tackles large scientific computations by dividing the problem into separate pieces that each processor can work on.

“This consortium will allow ACM schools to remain in dialogue with – and to a degree competitive with – universities,” said Fasano. “But far more importantly, such a consortium would allow us to develop our own unique niche as we explore the application of HPC in the context of liberal education.”

Fasano said the goals for the HPC consortium are “to foster intensive discussion about moving toward a shared high-speed computing system across our liberal arts campuses, to compare needs and interests, and to begin to plan a faculty development workshop on applications of high-speed computing.”

Long-term goals include developing a sustained computing project with interested ACM colleagues, creating a high-speed computing network across the ACM colleges, and establishing continuing faculty development workshops and other resources in order to maximize the impact of access to high-speed computing.

Supported by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the ACM’s Faculty Career Enhancement Project has provided opportunities for faculty at ACM colleges since 2004. The first phase of the project was designed to address the changing needs of faculty at different stages of their careers. The current phase is designed to foster and enhance the rich collaboration within the ACM, and by doing so, foster collaboration more broadly within higher education.