NCSA’s 2017 Year in Review

12.22.17 -

For NCSA, 2017 was so much more than just 365 days. We enabled new discoveries, drove economic impact, grew more diverse in people, projects, and funding, solved grand challenges, and we challenged ourselves (and the community) to change the world again. In case you were busy changing the world too, here’s a look at some of NCSA’s notable accomplishments of 2017, in no particular order!

NCSA processes data for the Dark Energy Survey in the most accurate measurement of dark matter structure in the Universe

New measurements from data processed by the Dark Energy Survey Data Management (DESDM) project at NCSA verified the theory that 26 percent of the universe is in the form of mysterious dark matter and that space is filled with an also-unseen dark energy, which is causing the accelerating expansion of the universe and makes up 70 percent of the universe's contents. The new results come from data from the first year of observations of the Dark Energy Survey (DES) in 2013 and are available online. These measurements of dark matter in the present-day cosmos were made with a precision that allows scientists to see the current structure of the universe as clearly as they can see its infancy, and understand more about how the universe has evolved over its 14 billion years.

NCSA's Blue Waters Project provides $1.08 billion direct return to Illinois' economy

NCSA released a study which reveals the projected economic impact of Blue Waters Project on Illinois' economy. The study finds that the Blue Waters Project—which is a joint investment between the State of Illinois, the University of Illinois, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and related activities funded by the university, NSF and other federal agencies—has a projected $1.08 billion direct economic impact on Illinois' economy and will have created 5,772 full-time equivalent employment over the project's lifespan (October 2007 – June 2019). Additionally, over the project's lifespan, every $1 spent for Blue Waters-related activities led to an additional $0.864 of production in the state economy. When it comes to employment, the multiplier increased to a projected 2.044 (every job created by BW-related activities leads to one additional job created in the state economy).

ExxonMobil sets record on NCSA's Blue Waters supercomputer

ExxonMobil partnered with NCSA to achieve a major breakthrough with proprietary software using more than four times the previous number of processors used on complex oil and gas reservoir simulation models to improve exploration and production results.

The breakthrough in parallel simulation used 716,800 processors, the equivalent of harnessing the power of 22,400 computers with 32 processors per computer. The record run has resulted in data output thousands of times faster than typical oil and gas industry reservoir simulations. It was the largest number of processor counts reported by the oil and gas industry, and one of the largest simulations reported by industry in engineering disciplines such as aerospace and manufacturing.

Bill Gropp named NCSA Director

Dr. William "Bill" Gropp, former Interim Director and Chief Scientist of NCSA, became the center's fifth Director on July 16, 2017. Gropp was appointed to the roles of acting and then interim director of NCSA by Vice Chancellor for Research Peter Schiffer when former NCSA director Dr. Ed Seidel stepped up to serve as Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation for the University of Illinois System. Also in 2017, Gropp was featured twice in the Department of Energy's Top 40 Scientific Milestones of the Past 40 Years, a select group of papers that have “changed the face of science” over the past 40 years. His two papers were "A high-performance, portable implementation of the MPI Message Passing Interface," published in 1996 in Parallel Computing and "Efficient management of parallelism in object-oriented numerical software libraries" published in 1997 in Modern Software Tools in Scientific Computing.

Blue Waters supercomputer processes new data for NASA’s Terra satellite

Using the Blue Waters supercomputer, NASA's Terra satellite has been analyzing Earth using five different instruments—MODIS, MISR, ASTER, MOPITT and CERES—to help scientists better document Earth, and how it has been changing for nearly two decades. NCSA's Advanced Visualization Lab created a visualization showcasing the work of the Terra data fusion project led by Blue Waters professor, Dr. Larry Di Girolamo. Di Girolamo presented the Terra visualization at the 2017 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana. Terra completes 14 orbits a day, in a circular 10:30 a.m. sun-synchronous polar orbit that takes it from north to south every 99 minutes. Since the early 2000's, Terra has played a key role in the study of air pollution. Terra was the first to study air pollution over land from space, and includes studies of the effects of air pollution on human health. "Blue Waters allows scientists to look through their data and analysis quickly, raise new hypotheses based on that analysis, and re-analyze the data to test the new hypotheses," said Di Girolamo. "That type of interaction with the data is central to the rapid advancement of Earth Science with Terra."

NSF awards NCSA funds for a deep learning research instrument

As technology becomes more ingrained in human life, teaching computers to "think" rather than simply compute is becoming increasingly more vital to research. The systems that allow researchers to explore the various ways to harness these deep learning algorithms, however, are few and far between.

As such, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program awarded a team of researchers from NCSA and the University of Illinois Department of Computer Science over $2.7 million to build a dedicated research instrument to expand deep learning research. This instrument will, in turn, allow for an expansion of the already-established deep learning research community at the University of Illinois, open the door to new industry collaborations and allow researchers to dive deeper into machine learning and data analytics than ever before. The instrument will be constructed in collaboration with Nvidia and IBM.

You can stay up to date with deep learning research opportunities at NCSA here.

New study uncovers best practices for effective partnerships between public HPC centers and industrial users

NCSA partnered with Hyperion Research this year to release a study aimed at identifying the most efficient ways for high performance computing (HPC) centers to collaborate with private industry as part of the National Strategic Computing Initiative. As part of the study, Hyperion analyzed 40 HPC centers across the United States, and how those centers interact with private industry. By recognizing this, NCSA can then see what HPC needs various industrial partners have, and how they can best be suited by various robust computing resources. The study's findings identify many ways for HPC centers to increase vital engagement with private industry, including providing mention of industry collaboration in mission statements, hiring business-trained individuals to lead these collaboration programs, adapting to meet business-based workflow timelines and a streamlined process of intellectual property and contract agreements.

As HPC resources become more relevant, partnerships between private industry and HPC centers will become more vital to innovation, Hyperion finds, making industry programs like NCSA’s an area of extreme excitement moving into the future.

With help from XSEDE, ArcticDEM completes Presidential Order

In 2015, an Executive Order from President Obama sought to provide detailed elevations of the arctic in order to accurately monitor ice caps and the changed in their structure. Paul Morin, a researcher at the Polar Geospatial Institute at the University of Minnesota, sought out to these goals outlined by President Obama and established the ArcticDEM project with support from the National Science Foundation and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). XSEDE supported the ArcticDEM project through two allocation periods, before the project transitioned to using the Blue Waters supercomputer at NCSA.

Using commercial satellites from the NGA, massive high resolution images of the arctic were then transferred to Blue Waters, where they were processed into stereoscopic images of the Earth, thus providing vital elevation data that previously had been lacking. From this data, scientists can determine which parts of the ice caps are experiencing the most ice loss, and also study sea level, coastal erosion, aircraft safety, and natural disasters. Since its inception, the ArcticDEM project has completed its mission of providing high resolution maps of the arctic, wrapping up in September of this year, due in part to the vast and powerful Blue Waters resources. All of the project’s digital elevation models are free and publicly accessible, and can be found here.

NCSA launches Women@NCSA

Women@NCSA is a professional development and networking opportunity open to women and men alike. The goal of this organization is to increase and elevate the number of women at all professional levels in science and technology. The monthly events are intended drive conversations around our experiences as women in the workplace, share and develop professional skills and strengthen professional relationships in the workplace. In 2018, these events will held the first Wednesday of each month at 1:30 p.m.

Illinois launches first American nanomanufacturing node

U of I NCSA affiliate researchers in engineering were awarded a 5-year, $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to launch the country's first computational node aimed at developing nanomanufacturing simulation tools to improve efficiencies and strengthen the economic viability of nanomanufacturing.

The nanoMFG Node launched on September 1, 2017, and aims to be the engine for design, simulation, planning, and optimization of highly relevant nano-manufacturing growth and patterning processes.

Kimani Toussaint (PI and Director), NCSA's Narayana Aluru (Co-PI), Elif Ertekin (Co-PI), and Placid Ferreira (Co-PI), all faculty members from the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering (MechSE) at Illinois, will lead this effort, along with Hayden Taylor (Co-PI) from UC Berkeley.

Seeing the Beginning of Time

Seeing the Beginning of Time was co-produced by NCSA and Thomas Lucas Productions through the NSF-supported CADENS (The Centrality of Advanced Digitally ENabled Science) project led by Donna Cox.

The NCSA's Advanced Visualization Lab team members developed state-of-the-art technologies and used NCSA's Blue Waters supercomputer to create cinematic production-quality data visualizations showcasing hundreds of millions of years of galactic evolution and collaborated with numerous science teams in the co-production of the film.

The documentary features NCSA Research Scientist and Astronomy Research Professor Felipe Menanteau and his colleagues from the Dark Energy Survey (DES). Menanteau et al. are using light from distant galaxies to study the distribution of matter in the universe. This light emitted from far away galaxies, offer clues about how dark matter and dark energy influence the expansion of the universe. Seeing the Beginning of Time is available on Amazon Prime.

Stay tuned as NCSA continues to change the world in 2018. Sign up to receive our newsletters here, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

National Science Foundation

Blue Waters is supported by the National Science Foundation through awards ACI-0725070 and ACI-1238993.

National Science Foundation

XSEDE is supported by National Science Foundation through award ACI-1053575.