Research partnership focuses on air quality, energy resources

November 12, 2001

UH and Sun Microsystems to install fast computer grid, benefit students, faculty, industry

HOUSTON, Nov. 12, 2001 - A collaboration involving state-of-the-art technology and higher education announced today by Sun Microsystems, Inc. and the University of Houston will enhance research efforts aimed at solving complex problems in the environment and maximizing the utilization of energy resources.

Sun chose the University of Houston as the site for its first campus computer network, or grid environment, that will focus on applications in geosciences. The UH Sun Center of Excellence, led by a team from UH's Computer Science and Geosciences departments, will link computers at locations across campus and eventually around the world, allowing researchers to work on many parts of large problems or simulations all at once, speeding the process.

This method of grid computing is key for solving complex scientific problems, such as simulating the movement of pollutants in the atmosphere and improving imaging and seismic data processing methods used by the oil and gas industry. Researchers developing new drugs and studying the structure of viruses also need such powerful computer systems.

"Linking University of Houston researchers with leading institutions and industry partners around the world is important as we seek to advance scientific progress and economic development in areas related to the environment, energy and medicine," said Art Vailas, UH vice president for research and intellectual property management.

Sun's Center of Excellence (COE) program promotes open standards and collaboration to help build new technologies that advance academic research. UH is the first COE to combine grid computing with the discipline of geoscience. Other COEs are located in Canada, China, Germany and three other sites in the United States.

The UH grid will combine computer hardware from Sun with the Solaris™ operating system and Sun's Grid Engine software to harness campus resources that are underutilized. Sun's Grid Engine software optimizes the use of computer resources at various times throughout the day and night by enabling computers to be scheduled for maximum usage and to perform computer-intensive tasks whenever necessary.

The collaboration between Sun and UH will lead directly to cooperation between university researchers and those at leading labs and facilities in other Sun Centers of Excellence. Sun also is providing funding for student involvement in research and is collaborating with UH faculty in technical work to achieve research goals.

Kim Jones, vice president for research and education at Sun Microsystems, said, "We are pleased to be entering into a partnership with the University of Houston that will leverage the latest computer technologies in key research to maximize the potential of existing oil and gas wells as well as the improvement of our national air quality. Our investment in this Center of Excellence Partnership will provide state of the art equipment to help enable research in these important areas."

Chuck Shomper, vice president for information technology at UH, said, "This partnership enhances and expands the previous approaches we used to provide faculty and students with one of the best learning environments in the country. It also will enable critical research activities to provide important advancements in the energy and environment sectors for the city, state and the nation."

Barbara Chapman, associate professor of computer science at UH and principal investigator on the project, said the research projects are of wide interest. "The petrochemical work aims to develop technology that will permit better exploitation of oil and gas reserves by accurately mapping reservoirs," she said. "The air quality modeling work will enable us to experiment with many scenarios that can help the state of Texas determine the most appropriate means to ensure a healthy environment."

Grid computing has a high profile in the research community today, and it's the new way of using computers at various places on the Internet, Chapman said.

"To the user sitting at a terminal, it will look as if it's all one computer," she said. "And the prospect of our students and researchers collaborating in such a way with other Sun Centers and institutions around the world is exciting. We are very pleased to be able to work with the company and its partners to harness the industry's most potent technology - grid computing - for projects that ultimately will benefit all of society."

Once the equipment is installed in the Computing Center on campus, the university's Department of Information Technology will test the grid and will be responsible for it's day-to-day operations. The grid is expected to be running after the first of next year, Chapman said.
About Computer Science and Geosciences at the University of Houston
The University of Houston departments of Computer Science and Geosciences have more than 40 faculty members working in classrooms and research labs, participating in projects with applications in such diverse areas as air quality modeling, seismic imaging, molecular design and medical imaging. These projects include the development of system software for grid computing, parallel application development, computer security, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, earthquake and seismic studies and the geochemistry of surface and subsurface water.

About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 32,000 students. For more information about UH visit the university's 'Newsroom' at

About Sun Microsystems and Sun Microsystems in Education
Sun is a leading provider of open network computing solutions to colleges and universities around the world, powering academic, research and high performance computing systems, campus administration, digital libraries and student instructions systems. In addition, Sun is committed to connecting the world's students to the Internet, beginning with primary and secondary schools and extending to all levels of higher education. For more information:

Since its inception in 1982, a singular vision - The Network Is The Computer ™ - has propelled Sun Microsystems, Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) to its position as a leading provider of industrial-strength hardware, software and services that power the Internet and allow companies worldwide to take their businesses to the nth. Sun can be found in more than 170 countries and on the World Wide Web at

Contacts: Amanda Siegfried, University of Houston
713/743-8192 (office)
713/605-1757 (pager)

Doron Aronson, Sun Microsystems, Inc.
408/517-5529 (office)

University of Houston

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