December 21, 2007
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., Dec. 17 -- Purdue University is developing courses that will focus on high-performance computing, making it one of a few universities nationwide to offer such curriculum. The specialization will be offered in the Department of Computer and Information Technology. It will include a course starting in the spring semester in which each student will build a high-performance computer that is about four times more powerful than a standard personal computer.
Such machines can perform a litany of functions, from helping researchers solve mathematical problems to improving automobile design.
"As high-performance computing becomes more commonplace in industry, businesses are finding that they need employees who know how to assemble and maintain these machines," said Thomas Hacker, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer and Information Technology. "There is a huge unmet demand. Students who go through our program will have a definite advantage in the workplace."
The specialization is still in development, but courses in bioinformatics have already been offered. Courses will be crafted for seniors and graduate-level students. Future courses will be dictated by student demand but may include software development, computational biology, molecular pharmacology and data management.
"We will go from bits to biology to the benchtop," Hacker said. "This specialization will be of interest to students in our department, as well as those in biology, engineering, computer science and physics. It will prepare them for jobs in manufacturing, health care and many other areas."
Hacker said students in the spring semester course will assemble a supercomputer from recycled computers from the College of Technology and the Rosen Center for Advanced Computing. Each supercomputer will consist of four nodes, or standard computers, which students will learn how to essentially link together to harness all four computers' power.
"The computers we will be using are all regular machines that you'd find in any office, but what students will gain is the ability to connect these components so that the systems run parallel to each other to gain the power of all the machines for a particular task," he said.
Hacker said students can put these skills to use in any environment.
"Once you have the knowledge, you can easily build a high-performance computer and customize it with hardware, open-source software and various add-ons that enable the machine to handle almost any task," he said.
He said that a growing number of industries are seeing the benefit of high-performance computers, not just to solve complex problems, but also to streamline their processes and make products better.
One example is the automobile industry, where supercomputers are being used to create computer simulations of crash tests. These powerful machines allow for the creation of virtual dummies instead of the physical dummies traditionally used. This enables engineers to model human body systems, including the brain, muscles and organs, and even create multiple models that reflect various genders, ages and sizes of people. These "virtual humans" allow for more detailed crash evaluation at a lower cost. The Council on Competitiveness reports that automobile manufacturers have reduced their use of physical dummies by 85 percent in the last decade.
Hacker said the course also will look at issues involving how to run these machines on as little power as possible and how to ensure that the environment they are kept in has adequate cooling.
In addition to Hacker, other computer and information technology faculty involved in the specialization development are Michael Kane, Shannon Schlueter and John Springer.
Gary Bertoline, distinguished professor of computer graphics technology, professor of computer and information technology, and assistant dean for graduate studies in the College of Technology; Jeffrey Evans, assistant professor of electrical engineering technology; and Bedrich Benes, assistant professor of computer graphics technology, also are assisting with course development.
Source: Kim Medaris, Purdue University
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