Revolutions in research

Near RIMAC, there is an impressive structure called the San Diego Supercomputer Center, but this building is more than just another random structure on campus. As a national laboratory for computational science and engineering, SDSC is an important research unit of UCSD and an international leader in several fields. Its mission is to develop and use technology to advance science and society.

SDSC is home to a team of more than 400 scientists, software developers and researchers. It receives support from sponsors such as the National Science Foundation, the University of California and other government agencies. With this support, the SDSC focuses on five program areas: integrative biosciences, data and knowledge systems, grid and cluster computing, environmental sciences, and high-end computing.

SDSC has a profound impact on world research in the area of computational biosciences. According to Phillip Bourne, director of integrative biosciences, SDSC is pursuing “”large projects that span different levels of biological complexity and which require high performance computing.”” A major project is the operation of the protein databank, a repository of protein structure data that has become an essential resource in drug design and protein engineering.

Other projects include key bioinformatics and information coordination roles for the Biomedical Informatics Research Network, the Alliance for Cell Signaling and the Joint Center for Structural Genomics. These three collaborations all seek to use technology to advance the study of biological processes.

“”I would say biology is dependent on the type of resources offered by SDSC,”” Bourne said. “”It is a unique environment not available almost anywhere else.””

As data management and data-oriented computing gain importance in the scientific community, SDSC continues to expand its role in the area of data and knowledge systems. It is currently leading an NSF Digital Government proposal to develop an information integration testbed. It will also create a data institute to integrate research activities worldwide.

“”SDSC will expand the current data and knowledge group to support an end-to-end vision of data-oriented computing,”” said Chaitan Baru, co-director of data and knowledge systems.

Within the last decade, high-end computing has made extensive use of grids and clusters; this trend is intensifying with support from the industrial community. In August 2001, the NSF awarded $53 million in funding to SDSC and three partner sites to deploy the TeraGrid, a grid and cluster computing infrastructure that will be the most comprehensive environment ever for scientific research.

SDSC’s grid and cluster program seeks to develop a hardware, software and application base. The grid applications will be tested on new UCSD communities, such as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the School of Medicine. SDSC will also play a crucial role in ensuring that grids maximize user productivity.

SDSC has also impacted the field of environmental informatics, where its ability to integrate large-scale information from different disciplines allows it to make strong contributions. In this program area, SDSC will nurture its leadership in other related domains, such as chemistry and design visualization.

“”SDSC and UCSD are well positioned to build and support a large-scale program in environmental sciences that spans scales from the molecular level to entire populations,”” said Kim Baldridge, director of computational sciences. “”SDSC and the campus will work together to build a program that advances the capacity to monitor, guide, understand and explain environmental complexity.””

Finally, SDSC is the operator of one of the most powerful high-end computing resources. In this arena, SDSC aims to develop the most capable computation environments and to make these environments accessible by the entire scientific community. SDSC is also the site for the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure, an NSF-funded collaboration dedicated to creating computational environments for future scientific discoveries.

In addition to research in the five program areas, SDSC also advances the nation’s network infrastructure by investigating and promoting the development of the Internet and of networks for the next generation. It also links Mexico’s research and education network to its U.S. counterparts and is a major connection point for Southern California Internet service providers.

The education department at SDSC offers a range of education and community outreach programs at the K-12, undergraduate and graduate levels. The TeacherTECH program is designed to provide K-12 teachers with technology solutions for the classroom. The PCS6 Coalition, which aims to integrate the Internet with middle and high school curriculum, is currently under development.

SDSC has also formed many partnerships with industries to contribute to the advancement of science and technology. Over 50 commercial, private and government organizations are members of SDSC’s Science and Technology Outreach Program. Members of this program have access to all of SDSC’s resources, leading-edge technology and research scientists, all at a discounted cost for supercomputer engineering.

“”We were able to use the supercomputer to investigate a broad range of possible drug targets in just a fraction of the time it would have taken on our own equipment,”” said Jack Lief, president and CEO of Arena Pharmaceuticals. “”We expect that working with SDSC will enable use to tackle a wealth of new genomic information.””

Participation in STO can be a feasible way for U.S. industries to use high-performance technology for engineering and research.

“”JVC has always been a strong consumer electronics company and was very attracted to the idea of partnering with such a prestigious, renowned institute,”” said Bill Bleha, vice president of engineering at JVC’s Digital Image Technology Division.

SDSC has established itself as a leader in computational science and plans to continue making impacts in the field of scientific technology in the future.