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TCNJ wins NSF Grant to Enhance its High-Performance Computing Cluster and Support Computational Research and Education

Dr. Joseph Baker’s research group. L-R: Stephen Jones ’20, Sarah Shoeb ’19, Alberto Gonzalez ’20, Christopher Lovenduski ’20, and Dr. Baker.

The Electronic Laboratory for Science and Analysis at TCNJ, or “ELSA”, will receive significant enhancements after the College was awarded a $650,000 competitive grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Instrumentation program.

“ELSA” is TCNJ’s High-Performance Computing (HPC) cluster, which is named after the famous “Born Free” lioness and our mascot, the lion.

The grant will fund the acquisition of new equipment for the ELSA cluster, with the goal of enhancing a diverse and state-of-the-art resource capable of supporting the current and future computational needs of our science programs.  In particular, the targeted upgrades will allow TCNJ to:

  1. Triple the number of graphic processing unit (GPU) servers available in the cluster to meet our intensive GPU computing demands.
  2. Replace many of our aging central processing unit (CPU) servers with fast CPUs with high-speed interconnects.
  3. Expand the cluster’s storage space to meet our long-term scientific data archival needs.
  4. Acquire dedicated hardware and software to enable remote visualization and minimize large data transfers across our science network.

The upgrades from this grant will enable TCNJ faculty and student researchers to run workflows ranging from computations that necessitate high levels of parallelization over hundreds of cores, to intensive GPU computations such as molecular modeling, to remote visualization of simulation results.

Enhancements to the ELSA cluster are driven by interdisciplinary research occurring across a range of computationally intensive scientific fields including:

  • Computational biochemistry/biophysics
  • Genetics/bioinformatics
  • Computational astrophysics
  • Machine learning & cybersecurity
  • Mathematical/computational biology
  • Catalytic chemistry

In addition to improving the capacity for scientific discovery, the new instrumentation will help TCNJ to develop an undergraduate workforce that is ready to leverage increasingly powerful High-Performance Computing (HPC) resources. A new HPC/data visualization short course and a summer HPC workshop for students participating in TCNJ’s residential summer undergraduate research program – known as the Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience (or MUSE) program – will be implemented. Data visualization equipment purchased with the grant will also allow our teacher-scholars to engage approximately 450 undergraduate students each year with HPC resources through lab and classroom instruction.

This project is a collaborative effort supporting faculty members and students spanning all five academic departments in the School of Science.  The project is led by Joseph Baker (Chemistry), who serves as Principal Investigator on the grant.  Shawn Sivy (HPC System Administrator for the School of Science) will also lead the implementation efforts.  In addition to Dr. Baker, the grant includes 12 other faculty members:  Nicholas Battista (Mathematics & Statistics), Michael Bloodgood (Computer Science), Wendy Clement (Biology), Jana Gevertz (Mathematics & Statistics), Jikai Li (Computer Science), Sudhir Nayak (Biology), Michael Ochs (Mathematics & Statistics), Abby O’Connor (Chemistry), Dimitris Papamichail (Computer Science), Tamika Royal-Thomas (Mathematics & Statistics), Paul Wiita (Physics), and Sejong Yoon (Computer Science).  The new equipment acquired through the grant will support the research of these 13 teacher-scholars and the over 100 undergraduate researchers who work with them each year.


More about TCNJ’s High-Performance Computing Cluster – “ELSA”

Computer Science major Victoria Green ’19, working on the ELSA cluster.

“ELSA” (Electronic Laboratory for Science and Analysis) is TCNJ’s heterogeneous High-Performance Computing (HPC) cluster named after the famous “Born Free” lioness and our mascot, the lion.  After the new equipment from the grant is installed, ELSA’s compute resources will be comprised of over 143 servers, providing 2,200 central processing unit (CPU) cores, 84 graphics processing units (GPUs), and approximately two petabytes of network-based storage. The cluster is housed in a dedicated Scientific Computing Center in TCNJ’s newly constructed STEM Building.

Example areas of faculty and undergraduate research and teaching using the ELSA cluster include:

Applied Mathematics

Encryption

Astrophysics

Evolution & Phylogeny

Big Data

Fluid Dynamics

Biochemistry

Genetics & Bioinformatics

Biophysics

Machine Learning

Biostatistics

Mathematical Biology

Catalytic Chemistry

Natural Language Processing

Cybersecurity

Synthetic Biology


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