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Texas A&M Researcher Receives $1.3 Million To Make Supercomputing Easier

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, March 25, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Fifteen years ago, undergrad Wolfgang Bangerth immersed himself in creating software that would give researchers working on complex equations with billions of variables additional ease and efficiency.

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Now a mathematics professor at Texas A&M University, Bangerth boasts a robust software program, deal.II, used by hundreds of researchers around the world studying a variety of topics, from plant root growth and glacier mechanics to heart muscle fiber simulation and even the impact of air pollution on Roman statues.

Bangerth's globally beneficial efforts recently were enhanced with a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation ( NSF) to expand the software's uses and make it more adaptable for and accessible to researchers.

"For us, this is validation that what we are doing is right," Bangerth said. "We're helping others. We want to provide the infrastructure for other researchers in as broad a way as possible. We want to give researchers the building blocks they need to do their research. There's a need for this. There's not a lot of software for people doing research on projects that have billions of variables."

Researchers working on such complex problems use specialized computing clusters — essentially tens of thousands or more computers stacked and grouped together to pool processing power. Some of the large supercomputing operations use more than a million processor cores, usually in warehouse-like rooms equipped with a powerful cooling system. For example, a recent, partly NSF-funded addition at the University of Texas at Austin, Stampede, has 102,400 processor cores.

The specialized research done on these systems has world-changing potential. Bangerth, for instance, is working with a center at the University of California, Davis to study a hypothesis about the cause of earthquakes, an area that so far has baffled scientists. The computing power is needed to accurately model the turbulent convections of heat ebbing and flowing from the Earth's bowels to its surface — a task Bangerth says requires at least a thousand computers to provide a simulation with adequate resolution.

Although computing power is important, Bangerth notes it's the software that helps researchers harness the true potential of this hardware, which is accessible to all but of maximum benefit to a handful of research groups with the specialized knowledge, ability and resources to write the necessary high-level code from scratch.

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