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News Tip


**SC2002 EDITION**
November 18, 2002

SC2002, the annual conference of high-performance computing and networking, is being held Nov. 16-22 at the Baltimore Convention Center. NSF-supported activities in high-performance information technology tools, applications, and infrastructure -- including those described here -- are being featured throughout the SC2002 Research Exhibits.

For more information on these science news and feature story tips, please contact David Hart at (703) 292-8070.

Mining the Cosmos

a sample 2MASS mosaic produced for the NPACI demo

A sample 2MASS mosaic produced for the NPACI demo.
Credit and more information
Select image for a larger version.
(Size: 200KB)

Tomorrow's astronomers are more likely to start their research by mining data than by sitting at a telescope.

High-performance information technology is giving astronomers a new window into the night sky, as captured in digital collections by automated telescopes. In one such project, the entire sky comprises 10 terabytes (10,000 gigabytes) of infrared imagery amassed by the 2-Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS), funded by NSF and NASA and led by the University of Massachusetts.

However, each 2MASS image covers a region in the sky only one-tenth of a degree by two-tenths of a degree. For comparison, the moon is half a degree across, and large celestial structures can span several degrees. The Large Magellanic Cloud stretches across nearly five degrees -- 50 2MASS images across.

Simply piecing raw 2MASS images together produces patchy and unusable mosaics. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), which is processing the 2MASS data, has developed software that recalibrates, pixel by pixel, the orientation, background, and alignment of each image. Each 2-megabyte image requires about four minutes to process. A 300-image mosaic, therefore, requires 40 hours of computer processing over 600 megabytes of data.

However, with a parallel supercomputer like Blue Horizon, operated by the NSF-supported National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (NPACI), large mosaics can be assembled in minutes. Eventually, an all-sky mosaic will be assembled from the entire 2MASS collection. Data-mining tools can then be applied to discover objects of interest for further study.

The use of NPACI's data grid technology and Blue Horizon to create large mosaics will be demonstrated in the NPACI research exhibit (R1134) at SC2002. The demo will show mosaics of the Virgo galaxy cluster and a dust-cloud region in the galactic plane.

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Remote Control Earthquakes

Only an earthquake engineer would want to be closer to an earthquake, simulated or otherwise, as it rocks the structure of a bridge, building or highway. But the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), a national major research equipment program supported by NSF, is constructing the information technology infrastructure to make that possible.

Engineering experiments vital to reducing the nation's vulnerability to catastrophic earthquakes rely on shake tables, tsunami wave tanks, geotechnical centrifuges and other massive pieces of laboratory equipment being constructed under NEES. Traditionally, experiments with such shared equipment have to be conducted on site, but NEES is deploying technology to overcome that limitation.

A Nov. 14 demonstration at the University of Nevada, Reno, provided the first glimpse of the infrastructure, called NEESgrid, that will eventually allow earthquake engineers to remotely view and control experiments on scarce physical simulation systems, collaborate with colleagues across the country and analyze vast amounts of experimental data.

In the demonstration, an earthquake simulated by UNR's shake tables rocked a model bridge that was equipped with sensors to measure and display displacements. Data from the bridge were streamed live to an early version of the NEESgrid, a project led by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The captured data were stored and transferred across the grid to another workstation, where a wide range of tools were available for in-depth analysis.

The NEESgrid team will present the results of the Reno demonstration at the National Computational Science Alliance research exhibit (R1249) at SC2002 in Baltimore, MD, on Tuesday, Nov. 19 through Thursday, Nov. 21.

For more details, see

Photo of shake table
Photo of three shake tables at University of Nevada, Reno, used to demonstrate the capabilities of the NEESgrid infrastructure at the NSF NEES awardees meeting, Nov. 14, 2002.
Photo Credit: David Gehrig, NCSA

NEES Demo Video Available Here (streaming)

Download video: QuickTime
NEESgridDemo.wmv Windows Media

This clip shows a shake table experiment at the University of Nevada, Reno, replicating the 1940 El Centro, Calif., "Imperial Valley" earthquake, which measured 7.1 on the Richter scale. A large beam is mounted across three separate tables, which are shaken by large piston arms mounted alongside. The beam, representing a model bridge, wobbles loudly in response to the initial temblor and continues to shake for the duration of the quake. No damage is visible to the bridge structure, but data from sensors have been captured and transmitted to the NEESgrid infrastructure.

Video Credit: University of Nevada, Reno.

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Spinning Data Webs for Science and Business

The data - lots of data - may be out there, but for the average scientist, businessperson or teacher, they might as well not be. Freely available data, whether for studying the Earth, designing drug treatments or making business decisions, may be almost impossible to use because of different data formats, sheer quantity, distant storage sites or other issues.

Researchers from the National Center for Data Mining at the University of Illinois, Chicago, want to make it easier to use data you've never seen before. Led by Robert Grossman and supported in part by NSF, NCDM researchers are developing "data webs" to make sharing data sets as easy as the World Wide Web makes sharing digital photos. Data webs automatically convert data into relevant formats and let users analyze the data on the fly.

But what if the information you need is buried in a huge data collection on the other side of an ocean? In September at the iGrid 2002 meeting in Amsterdam, the NCDM team moved data across the Atlantic at 2.8 gigabits per second -- more than 500 times faster than the typical trans-Atlantic Internet transfer. This achievement foreshadows the day when the average scientist or businessperson can routinely include gigabytes of online data within an application.

In their research exhibit (R1145) at SC2002, NCDM will demonstrate the power of data webs using Earth science data sets, collections of protein structures and drug-candidate compounds, and U.S. Census data for demographic analysis in business applications.

For the demonstrations, they have created a global test bed with storage sites in Ottawa, Amsterdam, Chicago, and Baltimore. The data web demonstrations will be presented for the HPC Challenge on Wednesday, Nov. 20.

For more details, see

a TeraScope visualization of remote Earth science data

A TeraScope visualization of remote Earth science data using a data web from Project DataSpace.
Photo Credit: The Laboratory for Advanced Computing and the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Select image for a larger version.
(Size: 147KB) or Download high resolution TIF file (439kb).

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Simulating Disasters to Save Lives

In the past year, civil engineers have begun to change the way they look at buildings. A team of civil engineers and computer scientists at Purdue University has developed a new high-performance computing tool that will help to improve the design of critical buildings, such as hospitals and fire stations, which may save lives in the event of a disaster.

The research team, as part of several NSF computer science and engineering projects, used software commonly used in automobile crash testing to create highly realistic simulations of the September 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon, in which an airliner was crashed into the building. The results were then used to create a vivid re-enactment of the moment of impact.

The most detailed version of the simulation used a mesh of 1 million nodes to represent the airliner and the steel-reinforced columns of the building. Simulating a quarter-second of real time required close to 68 hours on a Purdue supercomputer.

"Using this simulation I can do the so-called 'what-if' study, testing hypothetical scenarios before actually building a structure," said project leader Mete Sozen, the Kettelhut Distinguished Professor of Structural Engineering.

Generating detailed and accurate models as well as combining commercial software with the special models needed to simulate an airliner hitting a building provided the team with its greatest challenges. The results of the simulation showed that the reinforced concrete support columns in the Pentagon probably saved many lives.

Team members Christoph Hoffmann, professor of computer science, and Sami Kilic, a civil engineering research associate, will present the team's work in the Research in Indiana exhibit (R1951) at SC2002 on Monday, Nov. 18, and Tuesday, Nov. 19.

For more details, see

Pentagon Animation

Graphic from model of aircraft hitting a grid of posts
This animation models what may have happened to the Pentagon when it was struck by an aircraft on September 11, 2001. The aircraft model, with a load of fuel in the wing tanks, is shown hitting a grid of posts, representing the Pentagon’s steel-reinforced concrete columns. The simulation shows the fuel onboard as it crashes into the building like a massive river of fluid. The million-node model required close to 68 hours on Purdue’s IBM Regatta to simulate 0.25 seconds of real time. Three observations in the simulation stand out. (1) The columns destroyed in the building facade do not have to correspond to the wingspan; the columns cut the lightweight tips of the wings, rather than the wings cutting the columns. (2) Each reinforced concrete column cuts into the fuselage until the column is destroyed by the river of fuel. (3) The plane rapidly decelerates after impact, as witnessed by the buckling of the fuselage near the tail structure.

Pentagon Video Available Here (streaming)

Download video: QuickTime

Credit: Purdue University School of Civil Engineering, Departments of Computer Science and Computer Graphics, and Information Technology at Purdue

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