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April 7, 1997

National supercomputing partnership includes UCSC as contributing institution

By Robert Irion

The National Science Foundation announced on March 28 that it will negotiate a five-year agreement with the University of California, San Diego, to revolutionize high-performance computing resources for the nation's scientists and engineers. UCSC is one of 37 institutions that will contribute to the program, called the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (NPACI).

New supercomputing capabilities will help researchers tackle currently intractable problems, such as targeted drug development, the design of new materials with specific characteristics, and detailed weather prediction. Such advances will become feasible as NPACI researchers create a national "metacomputing" environment, linking large numbers of powerful computers, data archives, and visualization systems via ultra-high-speed networks. The system ultimately will analyze multiple collections of data containing more than one trillion bytes of information.

The UC San Diego partnership is one of two winning recipients in a competition to replace the country's existing network of four university-based supercomputing centers. The other partnership, led by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is the National Computational Science Alliance (NCSA). Funding for the two new partnerships will begin on October 1.

"NPACI has assembled the most knowledgeable people in computational and computer science," said Sidney Karin, director of NPACI and founding director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center. "Together with NCSA, we will build a coordinated, national infrastructure that will provide unprecedented computational capabilities for the nation's researchers. This is a rare opportunity to have a profound impact on scientific progress."

Of roughly $150 million in funds over a five-year period for the UC San Diego consortium, UCSC will receive about $830,000. UCSC's funding will enhance research programs in physics, computer engineering, and computer science. New programmers will help to create and manage large databases in ocean acoustics, atmospheric turbulence, and oceanographic and meteorologic information from the Monterey Bay Area.

"These programmers will engage in networked, interactive collaborations with researchers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, Caltech, UCLA, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory," said Stanley Flatte (photo), professor of physics and principal investigator for UCSC's participation in NPACI. "The emphasis will be on developing new computing capabilities for working with massive databases, especially for researchers who are distributed across the country."

Flatte's research group studies how waves behave as they move through complex and constantly shifting media, such as the ocean and the atmosphere. For example, researchers use sounds to probe small-scale and large-scale processes in the sea; changes in the speed at which sound travels across the ocean could provide evidence of global warming. Light traveling through a turbulent atmosphere affects astronomical observations, and also may be used as a remote-sensing probe for weather and climate models. Through NPACI, Flatte hopes to expand his caches of data in these areas and speed the pace of collaborative research with scientists elsewhere.

Three UCSC computer scientists are coprincipal investigators: associate dean and Jack Baskin Professor of Computer Engineering Patrick Mantey, Associate Professor Darrell Long, and Assistant Professor Alex Pang. NPACI funding will help them create the next generation of an innovative project called REINAS--the Real-time Environmental Information Network and Analysis System. Begun in 1992, the REINAS project gathers data on the Monterey Bay coastal environment from an extensive network of remote sensors, stores it in a distributed database, and displays data on command via powerful graphics techniques. Mantey and his colleagues now seek to expand the REINAS model to other environmental systems and to make its vast database available to a widely distributed network of researchers.

The University of California system will contribute to NPACI by providing high-speed fiber optics data transmission lines for the faculty members and programmers involved. The Santa Cruz campus also will provide significant "in-kind" support for the program in the form of dedicated workstations and other hardware, as well as the time of researchers.

Other northern California partners in NPACI are UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC San Francisco, Stanford, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

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