Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT:
November 6, 1996 Michael Schneider
Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center
Computers at Work in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center Will Demonstrate Breakthroughs in Earth Science, Design of New Materials, Protein Structure, Heart
Modeling, Brain Mapping and Storm Forecasting.
PITTSBURGH -- Who would have thought a few years ago that a supercomputer could reveal the structure of Earth's inner core or predict a severe thunderstorm six hours in advance? Or show how a protein folds? Or create a real-time picture of what parts of the brain are thinking? Or diagnose prostate cancer?
In these and many other areas of research, scientific computing is making contributions to knowledge and to bettering everyday life that no one could have anticipated ten years ago when the National Science Foundation supercomputing centers program began. As host of SC '96, the annual supercomputing conference, held this year at Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Nov. 17-22, Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) will conduct a series of demonstrations to show some of this activity. These demonstrations, which highlight the conference theme, "Computers at Work," include:
- Faster than a Speeding Storm Front
In Oklahoma, the wind comes sweepin' down the plain, especially during spring storm season. For the past four springs, 1993-1996, the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms at the University of Oklahoma used PSC's supercomputers to test its storm-forecasting model, the Advanced Regional Prediction System (ARPS). During 1995 and again, with more success, in 1996, ARPS set milestones in meteorology. Current forecasting gives about 30 minutes warning of an impending severe storm. Powerful computing is essential to doing better, and using PSC's CRAY T3D, ARPS has successfully predicted the location and structure of severe storms six hours in advance, the first time anywhere this has been done.
- When North Goes South
Geological evidence from lava flows and the ocean floor shows that Earth's magnetic field reversed itself many times during Earth's history, but scientists haven't been able to explain how or why. In truly "groundbreaking" research, Gary Glatzmaier of Los Alamos National Laboratory used PSC's CRAY C90 to produce the first fully self-consistent, three-dimensional computer simulation of the "geodynamo," the electromagnetic, fluid-dynamical processes of Earth's inner core believed to sustain the planet's magnetic field. A stunning result was a simulated magnetic-field reversal. Glatzmaier's results offer the first
coherent explanation of this phenomenon. The model also revealed that the Earth's inner core rotates faster than the planet's surface, a finding since confirmed by laboratory analyses of seismic data.
- When the Earth Moves
When the big earthquake comes, how bad will it be? Studies of major quakes in San Francisco (1989) and Mexico City (1985) show that, depending on soil type and other factors, ground motion can vary significantly from one city block to the next. Computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University are collaborating with seismologists at the
Southern California Earthquake Center to develop realistic models that capture these site-specific variations. Using PSC's CRAY T3D, they're studying the Greater Los Angeles Basin. Their results are expected to give the most detailed data on seismic response ever developed, information that will help engineers design buildings better able to
withstand the stress of a severe quake.
- Street Map of the Mind
What parts of the brain are active in different kinds of thinking? Scientists at PSC collaborated with cognitive scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University to link PSC's highly parallel CRAY T3D (and the newer CRAY T3E) with "brain mapping" experiments on magnetic-resonance imaging scanners at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. With this computing capability, the scan data can be processed as fast as the scanner scans, making it possible to see what parts of a subject's brain are active while the subject is in the scanner. Ultimately, this capability has the potential to make brain-mapping viable as a clinical tool to diagnose and treat disturbances in brain function in real time.
- Heart Throb
Streams of red particles emerging from the left ventricle into the aorta -- that's what researchers at New York University saw when they ran their heart model for the first time on PSC's CRAY C90. Improved computing technology led to the first realistic, three-dimensional computational model of bloodflow in the heart, its valves and major vessels. Much like a wind tunnel, the model acts as a test chamber for assessing normal and diseased heart function. It will make it possible to address many questions difficult or impossible to answer in animal research and clinical studies.
- Diagnosing Prostate Cancer
What features from the biopsy of an enlarged prostate gland are important in evaluating whether there is malignancy and how serious it is? It's sometimes a matter of interpretation, and trained pathologists can differ in how they read the visual information revealed under the microscope. In collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, PSC scientists are developing computerized image-classification and pattern-recognition methods to aid in accurate diagnosis of prostate cancer. These methods provide an automated statistical analysis of relative cell locations that rates the degree of malignancy.
- New Twists in Globs and Zippers
A droopy chain of amino acids -- that's what rolls off the assembly line inside a cell when a protein is created. Before it can perform its life-sustaining tasks, this dangly chain must fold into the right shape. How is it that a particular sequence of amino acids uniquely determines this right shape, out of almost unlimited possibilities? It's called the protein-folding problem. Knowing the biological laws that govern this process could make it possible to create new proteins made to order to abate maladies from indigestion to arthritis. Using the CRAY C90, T3D and T3E, Charles Brooks, Erik Bozcko and William Young have carried out simulations that give the most comprehensive picture yet of protein folding.
- Long Distance Charges
Simulations of the structure of DNA and proteins and their dance-like oscillations inside living cells are achieving unprecedented results with a software innovation called particle-mesh Ewald (PME). Devised by Tom Darden of the National Institute of Environmental Health Science and initially tested at Pittsburgh, PME is an efficient, accurate method to account for the electrical attractions and repulsions between atoms that aren't bonded to each other in a large biomolecule. PSC scientists implemented PME on the CRAY T3D, and this one-two punch -- PME and parallel computing on the T3D and T3E, has made it possible to reproduce solvent-specific and sequence-specific DNA structure and dynamics, which heralds new possibilities for computational biology.
- Designing New Alloys
The magnetic materials used in recording devices, computers and other high-technology products represent a multi-billion dollar industry, yet significant gaps remain in our knowledge of how these materials work. To answer these questions, researchers need better understanding of the atom-to-atom interactions that give a material its unique characteristics. Scientists at Oak Ridge National Labs, Sandia National Labs and PSC are collaborating to solve these problems. They have developed an efficient new software method, the Locally Self-Consistent Multiple Scattering method (LSMS), that gives realistic results for the magnetic properties of each atom in a metallic alloy. Coupling LSMS with massively parallel supercomputers, they are making new advances in magnetic materials research.
More information (and graphics) about these demonstrations is available on World Wide Web: http://www.psc.edu/science/sc96.html
The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, a joint effort of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh together with Westinghouse Electric Corp., was established in 1986 by a grant from the National Science Foundation, with support from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
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