New data center crunches big numbers, solves big problemsPosted on January 5, 2018
Too much of a good thing. That’s the situation many scientists face in this age of Big Data.
With sophisticated sensors and surveys gathering information all the time, everywhere, the pile of data available to researchers is growing at a dizzying pace — so fast, that in many cases it has outstripped our ability to make sense of it.
Thanks to a new data center at Penn State, researchers can now analyze huge amounts of information and complex models that were grindingly slow or impossible to handle before. The 49,500-square-foot facility hosts 23,500 computer cores. A typical desktop computer has two cores.
“The data center enables us to provide world-class computation in an energy-efficient and economical way,” says meteorologist Jenni Evans, director of the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences (ICDS), which is responsible for the center’s research computing component. “Instead of having computer clusters all over campus, we put it all in this secure facility where researchers can share resources.”
One research group is gearing up to employ a computer cluster called the Cyber-Laboratory for Astronomy, Materials, and Physics (CyberLAMP). Led by astrophysicist Yuexing Li and funded by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the team “includes astronomers, physicists, materials scientists, and computer scientists, working on an incredible range of scales — from nanomaterials to planets in other galaxies,” says Evans.
The computing power of the data center will help astronomer Eric Fordbetter understand planet masses and orbits and predict where to look for planets that might be habitable.
“Lab experiments only go so far,” Ford says. “They let us measure the temperatures at which gas condenses into ice and determine which combinations of grains, pebbles, and rock fragments collide to merge into a larger body, as opposed to bouncing off each other or shattering into smaller particles. But we can’t create a solar system in a lab.”
What he and his team can do, with help from the data center, is integrate what they know about basic physics into computer models that simulate planetary system formation. “We can compute predictions of different models for planet formation and compare those to observations to test hypotheses for how planets are formed,” Ford says. “The CyberLAMP cluster will let us create much more sophisticated simulations with much greater realism.”
At the other end of the scale, fellow astronomer Doug Cowen will soon start using CyberLAMP to study neutrinos, the smallest sub-atomic particles known. Sometimes called “ghost particles,” neutrinos are everywhere in the universe, and understanding them can help scientists answer fundamental questions in physics. Cowen is a member of the international IceCube project that uses neutrino detectors embedded up to 2 kilometers deep in Antarctic ice.
“Cosmic rays crash into our atmosphere, and in those cosmic ray showers you have neutrinos,” he says. “Most of them keep going straight through the Earth, but rarely, some interact with matter in our detector and produce tiny amounts of light.”
The South Pole ice cap — where the crystal-clear ice allows even the tiniest flashes of light to be detected — serves as an ideal spot to record these rare interactions. The data center’s 100 graphic processing units (GPUs) will allow Cowen and his colleagues to rapidly analyze more neutrinos, in much finer detail, than has been possible before. “Right now, if we want to reconstruct one year’s worth of data, it takes a couple of months,” he says. “It will be an enormous benefit to shrink that down to a few days.”
The data center’s ability to integrate data and models from many sources is essential to a multi-institution project headed by Penn State and Stanford University. Funded by a $20 million U.S. Department of Energy grant, the Program on Coupled Human and Earth Systems aims to develop tools to assess how stresses in a natural system—such as a major hurricane or drought — or a human system — such as dramatic population growth — affect other systems, such as energy infrastructure, water supply, and food production.
“Current models for understanding the impacts of climate-related variability or other natural disasters deal with their effects on one or a few parts of other systems,” says economist Karen Fisher-Vanden, Penn State’s lead investigator on the project. “Our project emphasizes the interconnectedness of all the systems, and how stresses on one can reverberate through all the others. To do that by combining our standalone models from different fields would be a computational nightmare. Our goal is to create a state-of-the-art framework of computational tools that allows us to model the interconnected ‘system of systems,’ so sharing data across all those fields will be seamless.”
ICDS director Evans expects the data center to play an ever-expanding role for Penn State researchers in coming years. “Sciences such as astronomy and meteorology have a history of using Big Data,” she says. “Now, new instrumentation and data availability are bringing new research areas, such as biology and political science, into the Big Data venue. The data center will continue to be integral as it provides an incredible leveraging of shared computing facilities.”
This story first appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Research/Penn State magazine. Read it on Penn State News.
- Featured Researcher: Nick Tusay
- Multi-institutional team to use AI to evaluate social, behavioral science claims
- NSF invests in cyberinfrastructure institute to harness cosmic data
- Center for Immersive Experiences set to debut, serving researchers and students
- Distant Suns, Distant Worlds
- CyberScience Seminar: Researcher to discuss how AI can help people avoid adverse drug interactions
- AI could offer warnings about serious side effects of drug-drug interactions
- Taking RTKI drugs during radiotherapy may not aid survival, worsens side effects
- Cost-effective cloud research computing options now available for researchers
- Costs of natural disasters are increasing at the high end
- Model helps choose wind farm locations, predicts output
- Virus may jump species through ‘rock-and-roll’ motion with receptors
- Researchers seek to revolutionize catalyst design with machine learning
- Resilient Resumes team places third in Nittany AI Challenge
- ‘AI in Action’: Machine learning may help scientists explore deep sleep
- Clickbait Secrets Exposed! Humans and AI team up to improve clickbait detection
- Focusing computational power for more accurate, efficient weather forecasts
- How many Earth-like planets are around sun-like stars?
- Professor receives NSF grant to model cell disorder in heart
- SMH! Brains trained on e-devices may struggle to understand scientific info
- Whole genome sequencing may help officials get a handle on disease outbreaks
- New tool could reduce security analysts’ workloads by automating data triage
- Careful analysis of volcano’s plumbing system may give tips on pending eruptions
- Reducing farm greenhouse gas emissions may plant the seed for a cooler planet
- Using artificial intelligence to detect discrimination
- Four ways scholars say we can cut the chances of nasty satellite data surprises
- Game theory shows why stigmatization may not make sense in modern society
- Older adults can serve communities as engines of everyday innovation
- Pig-Pen effect: Mixing skin oil and ozone can produce a personal pollution cloud
- Researchers find genes that could help create more resilient chickens
- Despite dire predictions, levels of social support remain steady in the U.S.
- For many, friends and family, not doctors, serve as a gateway to opioid misuse
- New algorithm may help people store more pictures, share videos faster
- Head named for Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering
- Scientific evidence boosts action for activists, decreases action for scientists
- People explore options, then selectively represent good options to make difficult decisions
- Map reveals that lynching extended far beyond the deep South
- Gravitational forces in protoplanetary disks push super-Earths close to stars
- Supercomputer cluster donation helps turn high school class into climate science research lab
- Believing machines can out-do people may fuel acceptance of self-driving cars
- People more likely to trust machines than humans with their private info
- IBM donates system to Penn State to advance AI research
- ICS Seed Grants to power projects that use AI, machine learning for common good
- Penn State Berks team advances to MVP Phase of Nittany AI Challenge
- Creepy computers or people partners? Working to make AI that enhances humanity
- Sky is clearing for using AI to probe weather variability
- ‘AI will see you now’: Panel to discuss the AI revolution in health and medicine
- Privacy law scholars must address potential for nasty satellite data surprises
- Researchers take aim at hackers trying to attack high-value AI models
- Girls, economically disadvantaged less likely to get parental urging to study computers
- Seed grants awarded to projects using Twitter data
- Researchers find features that shape mechanical force during protein synthesis
- A peek at living room decor suggests how decorations vary around the world
- Interactive websites may cause antismoking messages to backfire
- Changing how government assesses risk may ease fallout from extreme financial events
- Algorithm aims to alert consumers before they use illicit online pharmacies
- Deep learning may help doctors choose better lung cancer treatments
- Using cues and actions to help people get along with artificial intelligence
- Multi-university NSF grant to boost research computing expertise