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Monday, June 17, 2024
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CCR Invloves Students in Cutting-Edge Research

The Center for Computational Research, located on the ground floor of Norton Hall, may be the only facility at UB protected by a fingerprint lock. It is also currently one of the top 10 academic supercomputing facilities in the United States.

CCR gives students the opportunity to work with faculty members on leading-edge research projects requiring high-performance computers and high-end visualization resources.

"Students utilizing CCR's resources will gain experience on state-of-the-art computing platforms including the latest parallel computing and visualization hardware and software. Access to these facilities will help prepare students for graduate school or employment in a wide variety of fields," stated CCR Director Russell Miller.

Students working within CCR can assemble, install and test the hardware and software for the cluster-based computing platforms while simultaneously developing relationships with the center's industrial partners.

Although students cannot access the supercomputer unsupervised, they can perform departmental research by opening an account with the permission of a faculty member. Approved students can use the supercomputer from outside CCR's glass-paneled facility by logging on via the Internet.

In addition to enabling high-tech research, CCR's mission is to foster mutually beneficial industrial partnerships by providing access to center resources and to serve as a focal point for technology transfer within UB and the WNY community. It offers seminars, workshops and courses on high-performance computing, visualization, computer modeling and simulation.

The center fulfills the tenets of its mission by offering programs for scout troops; giving talks at local elementary, middle and high schools; offering both a two-week summer workshop for high school students and a two-semester course in high-performance computing; and by serving as the core of the certificate program in computational science.

"CCR is a leader in the field of cluster computing, a field in which low cost commodity processors are clustered together to create a high-performance parallel computer," stated Miller. These clusters are being used in as many as 80 projects by approximately 25 departments, including the science, engineering, medicine, social science, media and art departments.

Some of CCR's most recent projects include: the development of software for modeling groundwater flow at either regional or local scales in order to predict migration of contaminants in groundwater; the development of novel computational techniques to study volcanic plume motion and sedimentation, with implications for volcanic hazards and short-term climate change; and the Peace Bridge visualization project, in which CCR, in collaboration with IBC Digital and Virtual Reality Laboratory at UB, created a real-time 3-D simulation of the proposed replacements for the Peace Bridge and the surrounding toll plazas.

The virtual reality simulations are one of the supercomputer's most fascinating features. Students can don 3-D glasses and view models from the Fakespace Systems ImmersaDesk, a monitor capable of generating mobile images larger than those produced by the average student's computer.

Peace Bridge simulations caught local interest when a model provided a picture of the Signature Span proposal. It offered a bird's-eye view of the model bridge and the surrounding regions of Buffalo and Fort Erie, and enabled viewers to manipulate the perspective by zooming in and tilting the image.

The 3-D simulations are not limited to large, geographical displays; students and interested parties can analyze objects on the atomic level, as well. UB's chemical engineering department, for example, uses the supercomputer to create large models of chemical compounds.

CCR's operating budget varies from year to year based on equipment acquisitions, the status of maintenance contracts and the number of funded projects.

"We are fortunate that due to the high quality of the faculty at UB, more than $30 million in external funds have been brought to the university to support projects that utilize CCR facilities," stated Miller. These funds come from a variety of corporate partners such as IBM, SGI and Sun Microsystems.

Corporate partners also come from within the region. WNY businesses including Praxair and M&T Bank have used the supercomputer.

CCR research spans beyond the hard sciences and engineering disciplines; consumer data is also a major source of analysis. The supercomputer is an ideal tool for this operation because it allows businesses to feed large strings of data into the machine and determine common patterns based on consumer purchases, a process known as data mining.

Tops Friendly Markets, for example, sends shopping data to CCR. Working with the School of Management, they track purchases made using Bonus Cards to determine what items are typically purchased together. Tops can then change the layout of its grocery stores and pair the items together on a shelf.

Students interested in touring the facility can sign up for a tour on the sheet posted outside the main entrance to the CCR. For more information about the research projects, computational facilities, or a look at portions of CCR via live Web cams, visit

Editorial Editor Gene Park contributed to this report.



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