UCLA receives NSF award for plasma research

August 26, 2003

UCLA researchers have received a Major Research Instrumentation Program award from the National Science Foundation to build a 256-node, 512-processor computer cluster to advance research and education in broad and diverse areas of plasma science. This major award recognizes the significant role computation plays in scientific discovery and technological advances and especially highlights the strong computational research programs in plasma science and technology at UCLA.

"This is a significant award not only for the plasma community at UCLA but in its recognition of the importance of computation and the quality of plasma science research at UCLA," said Janette Miller, director of Strategic Research Initiatives/Sciences at UCLA. "It is also a substantial step forward for the organization and development of the computational infrastructure at UCLA, critical to both the UCLA research enterprise and to our national and international competitiveness."

"This award comes at an opportune time for UCLA as we are launching a new computational science and engineering initiative," said Tony Chan, dean of the Division of Physical Sciences at UCLA. "We are grateful for NSF's generous investment in UCLA and for the focus it puts on the strength of plasma science at UCLA."

Computing power is rapidly transforming the way scientific investigation is conducted. Along with theory and experimentation, computational-based modeling and numerical simulation are now essential tools in the advancement of scientific knowledge and engineering practice. As a result, parallel computer clusters are now the major instruments used by computational scientists, just as telescopes and particle accelerators are the major instruments used by astronomers and particle physicists.

"This cluster is an exciting development for plasma science research at UCLA," said Warren Mori, principal investigator for the grant and professor of physics and astronomy and electrical engineering. "It will provide a necessary tool for making major discoveries in the next decade, and it will be an impetus for creating the intellectual environment necessary to invent the computational techniques that will be used on the next generation of national supercomputers."

Plasma research is yielding a greater understanding of the universe, as well as providing many practical applications now in everyday use, such as plasma TV screens. Plasma is the most common form of matter in the universe. Plasma is ionized gas, a collection of free moving electrons and ions. Ions are atoms that have lost their electrons. Plasma in stars and space makes up more than 99 percent of the visible universe. The planet Earth is made up of ordinary matter -- solids, liquids and gases -- but it is surrounded by the space plasma that begins to appear at 40 miles above the Earth's surface.

At UCLA, frontier plasma research is being conducted in such areas as:When completed, the NSF-funded cluster will have a peak speed of three teraflops (one teraflop is 10 to the 12th power floating point operations every second). This would place the UCLA system at No. 33 in the current Top 500 Supercomputer sites, a global list of the top supercomputers in industry, academia and government. Among universities, the UCLA plasma cluster would rank No. 3 in the United States. The cluster will be housed at the UCLA Academic Technology Services data center and managed by ATS staff.

Co-investigators for the grant are Steve Cowley, professor of plasma physics; Jean-Noel Leboeuf, a research physicist; George Morales, director of the UCLA Plasma Science and Technology Institute and a physics and astronomy professor; and Phil Pritchett, a research physicist.

University of California - Los Angeles

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