Event celebrates collaborative project to advance high-performance computing

L.A. Cicero Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann and the Rev. Scotty McLennan

Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann and the Rev. Scotty McLennan spoke Thursday with Maj. Gen. Fred Robinson after participating in a ceremony for the Army High-Performance Computing Research Center.

In a couple of weeks, trucks will roll up to the Mechanical Engineering Research Laboratory to deliver a new supercomputer, a 1,600-core Dell cluster, a tangible sign of Stanford's new connection with the U.S. Army.

Army officials emphasized at a campus ceremony Thursday that they view high-performance computer modeling and simulation as crucial to success on future battlefields, in areas ranging from tougher bulletproof vests to rocket propellant and miniature sensors that fly around like insects.

Some simulation problems will prove too demanding in terms of data and number-crunching even for Stanford's new supercomputing capability. Those simulations may begin on the new Dells, but their full run will require the more muscular equipment at the new Army High-Performance Computing Research Center. That facility is housed in the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field.

The Army is funding a $105 million, five-year agreement with a consortium of four universities and NASA. Charbel Farhat, a Stanford professor of mechanical engineering, will direct the multidisciplinary research center, which includes teams of engineers and scientists at Morgan State University in Maryland, New Mexico State University at Las Cruces and the University of Texas at El Paso.

At the ceremony, Stanford President John Hennessy, a computer scientist himself, said the research could have far-reaching impact on massively parallel computing, which he said was almost certainly "the greatest unsolved problem in computing."

John Parmentola, the director for research and laboratory management for the Army, said a smaller, faster military requires the development of new materials that will, for example, reduce the weight of a soldier's pack from 100 pounds to 40, and slash the bulk of an armored tank from 70 tons to 20. The work must begin with simulation of the behavior of materials at the atomic and molecular level, he said.

The Army is interested in biology (bees and ants show networking behavior), computation, (better hardware and algorithms,) wireless communications, science education and nanoscience. Military officers, like civilians, watch Star Trek, with its "holodeck," a virtual reality meeting room where humans are represented by their holograms. "Every general would like to have that," Parmentola said.

He noted the difficulty of modeling the flying ability of hummingbirds and insects; understanding how they fly could enable scientists to design imitations. Soldiers might toss them into the air, where they would fly off on autonomous surveillance missions, all the while "networking by swarming."

Hennessy talked of the unanticipated benefits of basic research. He reminded the audience that when the TCP/IP protocol was developed at Stanford in the early 1970s, no one knew it would grow into the ubiquitous Internet of today.