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UW, PNNL Tackle Big Data with Joint Computing Institute

Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing seeks solutions to real-world problems.

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Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing seeks solutions to real-world problems

SEATTLE – The deluge of data coming from today's countless electronic devices will be harnessed to take on the most pressing problems facing science and society at a new computational institute in Seattle.

The Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing is being formed by the University of Washington and the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. Researchers associated with the institute will work to ensure the next generation of computers and the methods used to run them can address challenges ranging from climate change to energy management.

"Computing has transformed science, engineering and society in remarkable ways," said Doug Ray, associate director of PNNL's Fundamental & Computational Sciences Directorate. "But as huge amounts of new data are generated daily by scientific instruments and household electronics, new technologies and approaches are needed to give that information more meaning. Researchers at the Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing will tackle 'big data' and help improve the quality of life for many U.S. citizens."

PNNL's Moe Khaleel will co-direct the Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing, which is jointly being formed by PNNL and the University of Washington. Photo credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Located on UW's campus, the institute will be a center of collaboration where UW and PNNL researchers jointly explore advanced computer system designs, accelerate data-driven scientific discovery and improve computational modeling and simulation. Scientists and engineers at the institute will also train future researchers in modern computational approaches.

The institute's research will aim to help solve a wide variety of the world's growing problems. For example, improved computational techniques can help design a smart electric grid that reliably delivers energy to keep homes warm and lit. Better analysis of biological data can help determine the causes of disease and how to treat health ailments.

Computer modeling can help explain how climate change impacts natural resources such as snow packs and the formation of greenhouse gas-capturing molecules in the atmosphere. And smartphone data can be used to improve urban life, such as decreasing idle traffic while also reducing carbon emissions from cars.

"The expanded partnership between UW and PNNL will create tremendous new opportunities for both organizations," said Ed Lazowska, UW's Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering and director of the UW eScience Institute. "'Big data' is transforming the process of discovery in all fields. UW and PNNL have significant and complementary strengths; together we'll be able to do amazing things."

UW and PNNL also hope to strengthen the Northwest's economy. The institute will build on UW's and PNNL's existing and already-strong relationships with the region's private technology industry. The institute will also help grow the region's skilled workforce for UW, PNNL, the Northwest technology sector and beyond.

Two co-directors will lead the institute: UW electrical engineering chair and Applied Computational Engineering Lab Director Vikram Jandhyala and PNNL Fellow Moe Khaleel, who directs PNNL's Computational Science and Mathematics research division. PNNL is funding the time spent by both Jandhyala and Khaleel leading the institute. Institute members from UW and PNNL will jointly submit proposals to various funding agencies for new research projects.

"This collaboration will open up new avenues for research at the interface of computational advances and applications, and is a great synergy for UW and PNNL," Jandhyala said.

"This will be an interdisciplinary place for UW faculty in computer science, electrical engineering and applied math to work with PNNL colleagues on areas such as computational physics, big data, cyber security and computing for the smart grid," Khaleel said.

The institute's headquarters are inside UW's Sieg Hall, but the institute will be broader than that specific location. Its research members will hail from many of UW's numerous schools and colleges. And PNNL scientists and engineers will work from both Seattle and the national laboratory's main campus in Richland.

PNNL currently has two scientists who conduct DOE-funded research related to big data and nuclear physics from UW's Seattle campus. About eight more PNNL researchers are expected to join them in Seattle by the end of 2013. All Seattle-based PNNL researchers involved in advanced computing will be associated with the institute. And initially more than a dozen of UW's faculty members are expected to join the institute.

Institute members will use computational resources already in place at their home institutions. In Seattle, that includes the Hyak supercomputer developed by UW's eScience Institute and UW-IT. Richland resources include components of the PNNL Institutional Computing program, which features the Olympus supercomputer. Cloud resources will also be used extensively.

Both UW and PNNL are well known for their contributions to advanced computing. UW is known for its computer science and engineering, electrical engineering and applied mathematics programs. UW's eScience Institute has advanced data-driven discovery, and the university's computational programs in physics, chemistry and astronomy are highly regarded.

And PNNL is known for designing and programming high-performance computers and evaluating their performance. PNNL leads research in computational molecular science, multi-scale mathematics, regional climate modeling and the modeling of underground fluids such as water.

More information on the institute from UW is online at