seal  Purdue News

November 14, 2003

Purdue stresses IT's role in research at supercomputing conference

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Computer scientists, engineers and information technology experts from Purdue University will highlight IT's role in research during an international conference that begins Saturday (11/15).

Purdue will team up with two other Indiana universities in a consortium called "Research in Indiana," which will showcase work at Purdue, Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame during Supercomputing 2003, Nov. 16-21, at the Phoenix Civic Plaza Convention Center in Arizona.

The "Research in Indiana" exhibit will promote the state's strengths in information technology and illustrate how IT is becoming more critical to research, including work in the life sciences.

"The life sciences are vital to Indiana’s economic future, from work to develop advanced pharmaceutical products to research aimed at improving agriculture, creating alternative fuels and making better artificial body parts," said Gary Bertoline, assistant vice president for discovery at Information Technology at Purdue, or ITaP. "But without the computing resources made available through information technology, much of this work would not be possible."

The city of Indianapolis, several Indiana corporations and universities last year formed a nonprofit coalition called BioCrossroads (formerly the Central Indiana Life Sciences Initiative) to support the development of new life science and biotechnology companies and products. Facilities at the Indiana universities and ITaP are an important component of the initiative because they are needed to spearhead work in life sciences.

"Without IT and without computers there would be no structural biology," said Carol Post, a Purdue professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology, who leads a research group to discover the structures of viruses and cellular proteins involved in cancer. "If you don’t have the structures of molecules, you are very limited in what you can do."

She said ITaP is enabling her research by providing high-performance computing resources, such as computers linked together in "clusters" and IBM supercomputers at Purdue and IU.

"The increase in computing power has helped our field enormously," Post said. "Now we can ask much more accurate questions and much more interesting questions about a molecule."

Insights into the structures of viruses and proteins will ultimately enable researchers to develop more effective treatments for diseases, including cancer.

SC2003 will attract about 6,000 experts from around the world. Now in its 16th year, the conference is sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society and the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer Architecture. Exhibits will be open from Tuesday (11/18) through Thursday (11/20).

Purdue researchers will present displays and videos on work that generally matches this year's conference theme, "Igniting Innovation," Bertoline said.

Highlighted research will include:

• Work using electron microscopes, crystallography and molecular biology to determine how viruses enter cells, replicate and cause disease.

• Purdue and IU's inclusion in the world's most ambitious grid-computing project, linking the universities to a powerful high-speed network and making available their supercomputers and huge storehouses of information to the nation's scientific research community. The universities have received a $3 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to create their portion of the network linkages that will extend NSF's "TeraGrid" to IU Bloomington, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Purdue's West Lafayette campus. The TeraGrid is a prototype of the NSF's plan for a national research "cyberinfrastructure," a system of supercomputers, massive data storage facilities and instruments that will enable scientists to solve the largest and most important scientific problems.

• An update on the first publicly available simulation that uses physics and structural engineering to study in detail what theoretically happened when a Boeing 757 crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The simulation could be used as a tool for designing critical buildings, such as hospitals and fire stations, to withstand terrorist attacks. It uses principles of physics to simulate how a plane's huge mass of fuel and cargo impact buildings made of steel-reinforced concrete. The simulation works by representing the plane and its mass as a mesh of hundreds of thousands of "finite elements," or small squares containing specific physical characteristics. The model, which requires that millions of calculations be solved for every second of simulation, enabled researchers to examine why the building appeared to be sliced by the impact.

• Work at a federally funded Network for Computational Nanotechnology, a group of five universities led by Purdue, in which researchers are developing and using computer simulations needed to design devices for a wide range of applications in nanotechnology. The center is funded with a $10.5 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation.

• New findings about how to use a "peer-to-peer" network to enable universities to share their idle computers for work that requires massive computing power. The term peer-to-peer describes a type of computer network in which every computer on a network acts as both a client and a server – as opposed to a client-sever network, in which certain computers are file servers, storing programs and information that are accessed by user computers known as clients. Universities have been using "Condor pools" developed at the University of Wisconsin more than a decade ago to harness idle computers at a single institution. The new findings show how to share these Condor pools and idle computers distributed at more than one university. Instead of having to manually link individual Condor pools – and disconnect them when they are offline, the peer-to-peer system automatically connects and disconnects Condor pools.

"Say the Condor pool at Purdue wants to share idle computers with the Condor pool at Wisconsin," said Y. Charlie Hu, an assistant professor in Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering." Wouldn’t it be nice if the Purdue Condor manager machine could automatically contact the Wisconsin Condor manager machine to ship some of the jobs over there?

"We are basically extending the capabilities of Condor from one university to the Internet scale."

The process of Condor pools negotiating with each other to share idle computers is called "flocking," as in flocks of condors, Hu said.

Results from that research will be presented in the technical program of SC2003.

Multimedia programs about the other research will be presented continuously on a large screen at the Research in Indiana booth.

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709,

Sources: Gary Bertoline, (765) 494-0541,

Carol Post, (765) 494-5980,

Y. Charlie Hu: (765) 494-9143,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Note to Journalists: A news release with additional information from the three Indiana universities participating in Supercomputing 2003 is available at Videos of the Purdue work that will be highlighted during the conference also are available at

Related Web sites:
SC2003 conference site
Research in Indiana SC2003
Web site for videos

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