PNNL, UW to form computing institute

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 10, 2013 

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Washington are combining their strengths as leaders in computing to form a new institute.

The Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing, to be based on the UW's Seattle campus, will tackle "big data" to address problems ranging from climate change to traffic jams.

"Computing has transformed science, engineering and society in remarkable ways," Doug Ray, associate director of PNNL's Fundamental and Computational Sciences Directorate, said in a statement.

"But as huge amounts of new data are generated daily by scientific instruments and household electronics, new technologies and approaches are need to give that information more meaning."

PNNL, the Department of Energy's national lab in Richland, is a leader in high-performance computing and making sense of large amounts of data.

UW's computer science and computing programs are among the top 10 in the nation and UW is a leader in cloud computing, said Moe Khaleel, a PNNL fellow and co-director of the new institute.

By combining the strengths of the two institutions, researchers will be able to address bigger challenges than each could separately, Khaleel said.

Together they could advance computer system designs, speed up scientific discovery based on data and improve computer modeling, according to UW and PNNL.

Data could come from sophisticated imaging equipment on the PNNL campus that can produce large amounts of information to be quickly and efficiently sorted by computer, helping advance research in the cause or treatment of disease.

Or data could come from smartphones, collectively producing information about traffic patterns to reduce idle traffic and carbon emissions from cars.

Solving some national problems, like better incorporating wind power and other renewable energy resources into the electrical grid, will require dealing with large amounts of streaming data and computer modeling.

The collaboration will give PNNL researchers improved access to UW staff, students and diverse Seattle computing companies and will strengthen the bridge between PNNL and UW, Khaleel said.

"This is really a timely thing to do for the Northwest and the state," he said.

By working together, PNNL and UW will be a stronger presence to compete for grants and projects as scientists from both organizations submit joint proposals to agencies to fund new research projects.

Their combined strength also should help attract top talent to the new institute.

PNNL will pay for the time spent by Khaleel and co-director Vikram Jandhyala of UW to lead the institute. Already two PNNL scientists are conducting research related to big data and nuclear physics from UW's Seattle campus.

Eight more PNNL researchers are expected to be recruited by the end of the year to join the institute, and more than a dozen of UW's faculty are expected to join the institute. In addition, PNNL scientists based in Richland will work with the institute, providing knowledge of big data, cyber security and computing for the smart grid.

PNNL also will bring practical experience in data science to the institute, helping it achieve its goal of training UW students in modern computational approaches.

"Together we'll be able to do amazing things," Ed Lazowska, UW's Bill and Melinda Gates chair in computer science and engineering, said in a statement.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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