News & Noteworthy: 2011 Press


Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center Receives Grant to Develop Pilot Program in Math and Science Teaching

PITTSBURGH, March 15, 2011 — The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) has received a $100,000 grant from the DSF Charitable Foundation to develop a pilot program to prepare high-school math and science teachers to effectively use computational modeling as part of K-12 learning. The grant extends Computation and Science for Teachers (CAST), PSC's successful program — introduced in 2008 — that introduced many Southwest Pennsylvania science and math teachers to easy-to-use modeling and simulation as often powerful tools for classroom learning.

Cast Summer Workshop

The DSF grant funds a three-way effort among PSC and the Maryland Virtual High School Project (MVHS), which helped to pioneer the use of computational thinking in high-school learning, along with the Math & Science Collaborative (MSC) of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which provides specialized educational services to Allegheny County's 42 suburban school districts and five vocational/technical schools. Educators from these three organizations will plan and design a well defined professional development program for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers in western Pennsylvania to become leaders in integrating computational modeling and simulations in classroom learning.

"CAST," says PSC director of education and outreach Cheryl Begandy, "proposes to bring to the classroom the same problem-solving, technology-rich approaches currently used in scientific research and in business. Introducing 'cool' technology into the classroom engages students," she adds, "and increases their willingness to stay with subjects they may otherwise find too complicated or just uninteresting. Ultimately the goal is to help create the cyber-savvy workforce demanded by the 21st-century marketplace."

Specific objectives of the CAST phase 2 pilot program, says Begandy, are:

  • to increase use of computational reasoning,
  • to improve the learning experience and engagement of students in math and science, and
  • to build capacity in western Pennsylvania for wider and sustained use of computational reasoning and tools.

Educators from PSC, MVHS and MSC met on January 20 for their first gathering to establish the outline of the pilot program and to set timelines and milestones.

Last Updated on Monday, 18 June 2012 10:10

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center Scientists Co-Author Paper on Wiring Diagram of the Brain

PITTSBURGH, March 10, 2011 — Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) scientists Art Wetzel and Greg Hood co-authored a paper on brain anatomy featured as the cover story in the March 10 issue of Nature, the international weekly journal of science.


Nature - March 10 Issue Cover

Wetzel and Hood collaborated with a team at Harvard University led by Clay Reid, professor of neurobiology at the Harvard Medical School and Center for Brain Science. The Harvard-PSC team exploited improvements in computer speed and storage capacity available at PSC that made it possible to transmit and process more than three-million high-resolution images from a pinpoint-sized region of a mouse brain. Starting with these very thin-slice (40 nanometers) images — obtained at Harvard via electron microscopy (EM), Wetzel and Hood stitched together a large-scale single-section mosaic. From these sections, they then reconstructed a 3D volume (encompassing millions of cubic micrometres) which made it possible for the Harvard team to painstakingly trace interconnections among selected neurons, in effect mapping a wiring diagram of a portion of the mouse visual cortex.

To get an idea of the amount of cortical information captured in each section, Reid analogizes to slicing a wedge of cheese. If each slice were a millimeter thick like a thin slice of cheese (instead of 40 nanometers), and the lateral dimensions increased by the same proportion, each slice would cover an area bigger than an NBA basketball court.

Hood and Wetzel used various software methods — fast Fourier transform correlations and other search methods — to find features in overlapping camera frames for alignment into a single mosaic. This process matches adjacent frames both spatially and in intensity to produce a nearly seamless image (about 10 gigapixels) of each section. They then apply a non-linear registration algorithm to map each section to its neighboring sections, compensating for deformations that inevitably occur when cutting tissue so thinly. Finally, a multiscale 3-D alignment stacks these local maps to construct a finished volume (10 teravoxels) for viewing and analysis.

By tracing interconnections within this volume, the Harvard researchers produced new insights into how the brain functions, finding that neurons tasked with suppressing brain activity seem to be randomly wired, putting the lid on local groups of neurons all at once rather than picking and choosing. Such findings are important because many neurological conditions, such as epilepsy, are the result of neural inhibition gone awry.

"This is just the iceberg's tip," said Reid. "Within ten years I'm convinced we'll be imaging the activity of thousands of neurons in a living brain. In a visual circuit, we'll interpret the data to reconstruct what an animal actually sees. By that time, with the anatomical imaging, we'll also know how it's all wired together."

For now, Reid and his colleagues are working to scale up this platform to generate larger data sets. "How the brain works is one of the greatest mysteries in nature," Reid added, "and this research presents a new and powerful way for us to explore that mystery."

Article and video about this research from Focus, Harvard Medical School research magazine:
Last Updated on Monday, 18 June 2012 10:10

PSC Mourns the Untimely Loss of Former PSC Scientist


Phil Andrews

PITTSBURGH, February 28, 2011 — The PSC staff joins the computational science community nationally in mourning the untimely loss of our friend and colleague Phil Andrews. Among the first scientists hired at PSC from its inception in 1986, Andrews played an important role at PSC for more than 10 years, serving as coordinator of scientific visualization for several years and then as manager of data-intensive computing. From PSC he went on to hold various leadership positions at San Diego Supercomputer Center [see] before becoming, in 2007, founding director of the National Institute for Computational Sciences at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. [See]

Early on at PSC, Andrews made a major contribution to the ability of PSC and other computational sites to produce movie-like animations from the data generated by computational simulations. His versatile graphics program, GPLOT, could take computer graphics files from many applications and translate them into a format that could be used by various operating systems, including VMS, UNIX and UNICOS. At one point, in the early 1990s, more than 20 other sites used GPLOT for this purpose.

While at PSC, Andrews took an interest in the presentation of textual material online, becoming fluent with SGML, a precursor to HTML that later became the underlying technology for World Wide Web as it was developed at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). Well before JAVA caught on widely, Andrews saw its potential and did a presentation to PSC staff showing off a page he developed with this now popular software. "He predicted JAVA would change the web," says J. Ray Scott, PSC director of systems and operation. "About six months later it started to emerge."

Last Updated on Monday, 18 June 2012 10:01

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center Network Exchange Partners with Drexel University for Improved Internet Connection

PITTSBURGH, February 17, 2011 — The Three Rivers Optical Exchange (3ROX), the high-performance Internet hub operated and managed by the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), has partnered with Drexel University in Philadelphia to implement a five-fold upgrade to the Internet bandwidth of both 3ROX and Drexel at essentially no cost increase.

Prior to partnering, 3ROX and Drexel each had individual one-gigabit (a billion bits per second) connections to Internet2, a high-performance research and education network that connects universities, corporations and research agencies nationally. By partnering, they are able to take advantage of a new type of Internet2 connection. Normally, the next level of service available would be 10 gigabits, which is cost prohibitive, but the new connection makes it possible to have two connections, each with five gigabits of committed bandwidth.

"Operating in the virtual world we live in, we're able to split the connection into two five gigabit connections at two different physical locations, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh," said John Bielec, the chief information officer at Drexel. "The newly formed connector, called 3ROX/Drexel, will benefit the many Internet partner institutions of both Drexel and 3ROX.."

"This will allow significantly better end-to-end performance," said Wendy Huntoon, PSC director of networking, "as well as access to new Internet2-based services. We'll each maintain a separate physical connection to Internet2, but will now collaborate on the management and strategic direction for the connection."

The partnership consolidates Internet2 connections in Pennsylvania from the previous three — 3ROX, Drexel and MAGPI (Mid-Atlantic Gigapop in Philadelphia for Internet2) — to two: MAGPI and 3ROX/Drexel. 3ROX serves universities, research sites and K-12 schools in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and Drexel connects the Drexel campus and its related research sites with the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities. With the new connection, both 3ROX and Drexel will be able to improve the quality and quantity of services they provide.

More information about 3ROX:
Last Updated on Monday, 18 June 2012 10:00

What is Supercomputing and Why Should You Care?

Ralph Roskies, PSC scientific co-director 

PITTSBURGH, January 31, 2011 - Ralph Roskies, PSC scientific co-director, will speak at Pittsburgh's Cafe Scientifique, a series of talks about science held in an unstuffy atmosphere with food and drink at the Carnegie Science Center. Roskies' talk on Feb. 7 will discuss how supercomputers have immense power to improve our quality of life. Doors open at 6 pm. The program is 7 - 9.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 October 2012 12:59  

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