First national earthquake engineering computer network takes shape

December 25, 2000

MARINA DEL REY, CA -- Leading members of the earthquake engineering community met recently with nationally recognized computer scientists in a workshop at the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute (ISI) to start designing the first-ever national collaborative network for advanced earthquake engineering research and experimentation.

The George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), a new National Science Foundation major research equipment project, will transform earthquake engineering research and remediation by enabling engineers from a wide variety of disciplines to pool their experience and perform experiments and simulations on a larger scale than ever before.

"It's an amazing thing," says ISI's Dr. Carl Kesselman, the workshop's organizer. "Normally, geotechnical engineers, structural engineers, tsunami researchers, and so on never even sit in the same room together. The fact that so many different types of civil engineers are now talking with computer scientists about how to build a common networked infrastructure is going to advance not only earthquake engineering research but practice as well."

The new collaborative network will also have a large social impact through improved design of bridges, buildings, lifelines, roads, and other infrastructure to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis.

NEESGrid is an NSF-funded project (currently in a scoping study phase) that could build the collaborative network for NEES. NEESGrid is a partnership among the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, ISI, Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Michigan Collaboratory for Research in Electronic Work (CREW), the USC Department of Civil Engineering, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Civil Engineering.

Kesselman and Dr. Jean-Pierre Bardet of the USC Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering are co-PIs for one of the grants under NEESGrid.

Kesselman says this collaboration breaks new ground for his distributed computing group at ISI. "We've worked with scientists and engineers from a lot of other areas like computational biology and astronomy, but this is a new direction for us."

The project builds on existing technologies such as telepresence and teleobservation (remote operation of and data collection from scientific instruments over computer networks) as well as new advanced experimental and simulation facilities. Tying these specialized technologies together is Globus, coordination and security middleware developed jointly by Kesselman's group at ISI and Dr. Ian Foster's group at Argonne National Laboratory for a specialized layer of the Internet known as the Computational Grid.

In "grid" or distributed computing, data processing resources all over the world are linked and pooled by high-bandwidth channels. Any ordinary research workstation or desktop computer within the Grid can be scheduled for access to supercomputers, high-end scientific instruments, very large data sets, and collaborative projects at other locations. In the past two years, Globus has been selected as the workhorse distributed scientific computing platform by national laboratories at NASA and DOE and most recently by CERN for its Large Hadron Collider project.

Among the capabilities NEESGrid could offer the earthquake engineering community for the first time are:

NSF NEES Program Director Dr. Joy Pauschke says, "The idea for NEES started with a groundswell of support from the earthquake engineering research community."

NEES fills a critical need for this community, which performs computationally intensive problems but has relatively little experience with collaboration and data sharing. Workshops in 1995-1998 led to the NSF NEES program, which started in October 1999, and the plan is for NEES to be developed by September 2004 and operate at least until 2014.

An important part of the project, Pauschke notes, is to train a new generation of earthquake and tsunami engineering researchers with new tools for collaborative research and experimentation. She estimates there are currently about 500 academic researchers and other users in the United States, and even more in the European Union and other countries. Potentially, she says, NEES could evolve into a global research network.
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The workshop took place Nov. 17 and 18, 2000. For more information, visit the NEESGrid website at http://www.neesgrid.org

The USC Information Sciences Institute, founded in 1972, is one of the world's leading centers for computer science research. ISI introduced the Internet Domain Name System and built one of the first successful e-commerce systems. ISI provides top-level infrastructure and research services such as the MOSIS online VLSI chip brokerage, and ISI's hardware and software prototypes have been incorporated into thousands of commercial and public systems. ISI is located in Marina del Rey, CA, with a satellite research facility in Arlington, VA.

University of Southern California

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