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Supercomputers are the geniuses of the computing world. They’re the fastest, most powerful machines around, playing a vitally important role in the field of computational science. They are used for a wide range of computationally intensive tasks in various fields, including quantum mechanics, weather forecasting, climate research, oil and gas exploration, molecular modeling, and much more. Nearly every breakthrough in computational science today stems from a supercomputer.

And Harrisburg University now has one of its own.

“The Computer and Information Sciences program needs to explore the next stage, the next frontier in computing,” said Dr. Majid Shaalan, who heads the program and led the team that developed HU’s supercomputer. The department also is planning a PhD program, an intensive research-driven cohort that will harness the supercomputer’s massive computational capability to conduct competitive research. “This can’t be done unless you have a super machine. We have the seed now, and we plan to keep growing and expanding it,” Shaalan said.

The DIY-style high-performance computing machine, powered by 68 servers and growing, can tackle the workload of hundreds of regular computers at once.

It took nearly three years to complete the build. And after deployed last month, students already have teamed with professors to launch ground-breaking research projects hosted by HU’s supercomputer.

Two students, Caitlin Campbell, a Forensic Science major under the supervision of Dr. Robert Fury, and Shannon Williams, a Computer Science major under the supervision of Dr. Shaalan, teamed to work on solving a historical problem of misinformation and disinformation associated with the profiling of serial killers.

This research could save the FBI and other forensic agencies thousands of hours wasted in manually searching through piles of documents. The team plans to use the supercomputer to develop sophisticated machine-learning techniques to mine government datasets in a much less labor intensive manner, Shaalan said.

Another group of CISC students, Bao Pham and William Lieske, are working with professors Ron Jones and Majid Shaalan to investigate the processing complexity of machine intelligence within physically diverse computing elements. This proposal will help the students establish knowledge and skills needed for cube/elastic computing within the HU High-Performance Computing system and develop a prototype burst connection. The project is a collaboration effort with VMware Inc.

Other interesting projects include the development of efficient solutions to improve data communication in autonomous vehicles.

“With such a machine and with the passion of the program students and researchers, the sky is the limit,” Shaalan said.

HU’s supercomputer project wouldn’t have been realized without the unflinching support and encouragement of HU President Dr. Eric Darr, and Kunj Inc., a midstate technology development company that donated the 48 server blades that filled the first rack of the high-performance machine.

A staff of 10, consisting of computer science students led by Chnitan Kumar, the computer architect who was key in building the machine and formed a team to manage the laboratory were the machine sits. The main goal for the team is to make the CICS laboratory a research hub for all HU researchers, students and faculty, so they too can explore the new frontier of science and technology.

The group went through a week of intensive training on supercomputers in Dallas last month at the Supercomputing 18 conference. 

“This conference was eye-opening and mind-blowing. I have enjoyed and learnt a lot from the workshop sessions, regular research presentations, and numerous exhibitions of the world-class tech companies throughout the conference. I really appreciate HU’s generous support for our attendances and strong research-shifting determination” Dr. Yun, professor of computer science and team member, said.

“After attending this conference, what I have come to understand is the value that such a supercomputer holds to our university. It far exceeds anything I could ever convey with words,” said CISC senior Zachary Pelkey. “It gives us a chance to not only put Harrisburg University on the international map; it enables us with cutting-edge resources to do research that has never been done before. It empowers us and emboldens us to change the world for the better!”

Another student who made the trip, Adrian Jones, was equally excited, but said it also opened his eyes to how little he knew about the world of supercomputing.

“SC18 left me feeling very excited and very scared. I was scared because I realized how little I knew about supercomputing. Conversely, I was very excited because I knew I could learn even more about this field,” Jones said. “I also felt very hopeful about the future. When we compare the supercomputers of the 1960s with the smart phones of today, the average smart phone as more computing power than one of those supercomputers. Smart phones have managed to improve lives of those that use them. Computers of all varieties have managed to improve the welfare of humans on a global scale. I’m very happy to be moving in this direction with my career, because I believe computers can be a force good. The potential to help others is boundless.”

Shannon Williams, a CISC senior and a key SW developer within the team added, “Being able to represent Harrisburg University was an honor. It not only made me feel valued by the school, but as a byproduct, my self-confidence increased. What an awesome trip it was!”
The team plans to participate in the Supercomputing 19 Conference in Denver next year, but this time, as presenters.

“We decided to participate in the conference in different tracks. We will present a couple research papers for the main conference, two other research papers are proposed for women in supercomputing, as two female students recently joined the team,” Shaalan said. “We will also target the educational track in the conference with some research work and will have a booth and showcase to the world our wonderful HU story and its little supercomputer.”

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