U Tennessee Wins $65 million National Science Foundation Supercomputing Grant

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $65 million to the University of Tennessee (UT) to build and operate one of the world's most powerful supercomputers and lead a nationwide partnership to put it to use.

The award is the largest research grant ever received by the school. The partnership proposed in seeking the award and to be led by UT is called the National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS) and will facilitate the use of the new supercomputer. NICS is a consortium of universities, research institutions and computing companies.

The project team is led by Thomas Zacharia, UT VP for science and technology and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) associate lab director for computing and computational sciences.

"Researchers need increasingly powerful computing resources if they are to deliver the breakthroughs that society demands in climate science, energy research and other fields," Zacharia said. "This award will guarantee that we are able to deliver those resources."

The grant is being issued by the NSF's Office of Cyber Infrastructure. It includes $30 million for computer hardware as well as $35 million toward operation of the system over the course of the next five years.

The new supercomputer system, to be built and deployed in partnership with Cray and AMD, will be capable of nearly 1,000 trillion calculations a second (one petaflop/second) and will give researchers the tools they need to conduct transformational research in a variety of fields. While specific users for the computer haven't been selected yet, the school said the topics they will address are "enormous":
  • Astrophysicists will move toward realistic simulations of supernova formation, galaxy evolution, and black hole mergers.
  • Climate scientists will get a boost in their efforts to predict extreme weather such as hurricanes and tornadoes as well as long-term climate change and the effects of pollution.
  • Earth scientists will be able to perform high-resolution simulations of the earth's interior to enhance our understanding of the planet's evolution.
  • Materials scientists will be better able to design materials with useful properties.
The system will also enable researchers to develop new knowledge and solutions in areas such as chemistry, biochemistry, particle physics, engineering and computer science.

NICS will be housed in the UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Computational Sciences. ORNL already hosts Jaguar, another supercomputer used by the Department of Energy.

The UT-ORNL partnership is home to three new joint institutes besides JICS: the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials, a $45 million facility to be built on UT's campus; the Joint Institute for Biological Sciences, an $11.8 million that will be home to the Department of Energy's new Bioenergy Science Center, a $125 million research endeavor between ORNL, UT and other partners; and the Joint Institute for Neutron Sciences, which will be built adjacent to the Spallation Neutron Source at ORNL.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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