Dan Stanzione

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

The University appointed Dan Stanzione as executive director of the Texas Advanced Computing Center, or TACC, July 1 and ahead of what is expected to be a busy year for the center.

Stanzione has served as TACC’s deputy director for more than five years, and his recent appointment to the executive director position comes after serving as acting director since January. The center’s stated mission is to design and provide extremely powerful computing capabilities for use by the open scientific and engineering research community.

Stanzione has supervised the creation and implementation of multiple of TACC’s computing systems in the past, and, in addition to his new direction duties, he will serve as principal investigator for the execution of Wrangler, the center’s upcoming data analysis management system. Wrangler’s primary focus will be memory and data-intensive applications.

“We want to let people solve their problems and solve these problems faster,” Stanzione said.

Santiago Sanchez, a biochemistry and Plan II junior in the Freshman Research Initiative, said he has used TACC resources to streamline computational problems in his research. Sanchez said some simulations the group has run would be too large in data size for the initiative’s internal computers to run efficiently.

“TACC allows us to supercharge our simulations and then transfer the vitally important information to our own disks,” said Sanchez.

Charles Jackson, a research scientist at the UT Institute for Geophysics, said TACC resources have allowed him to run a variety of experiments simultaneously and scale up his climate models, which produce huge terabyte-scale data sets.

“TACC is really good at running hundreds of experiments at a time,” Jackson said.

Large bodies of data and their consequential bearing on the STEM fields, as well as other areas such as the social sciences and business, are not lost on Stanzione and TACC. Stanzione also stresses the importance of large data sets, or "big data," in the future, saying big data represents a conglomeration of problems and technologies people will need to solve in all areas of life in coming years.

“There has been an explosion of data in science, as well as outside of science,” Stanzione said

Sanchez said big data has the potential to become central to decision-making in multiple fields, including business analytics and healthcare. 

“I feel we’re moving into an era where no decision will be made without petabytes of information behind it,” Sanchez said. 

At the helm of TACC, Stanzione has an expansive plan for growing TACC’s technology and ubiquity.

“My main goal is to diversify what we do,” Stanzione said of his concept for TACC’s future.

Stanzione’s plans for the close future include expanding staffing, launching Wrangler next January, creating event space for public exhibitions, and opening up a new building that will include more meeting areas for groups of scientists and engineers utilizing TACC resources in their work.

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

The world of plant biology is a mouse click away from researchers at UT, thanks to a renewed $50 million grant that will help fund the iPlant program. 

The program is a website that builds cyber infrastructure to support plant and animal science research. Developed in partnership with the Texas Advanced Computing Center at UT, it received this five-year grant to continue the project, which started in 2008.

iPlant works to provide tools for plant scientists, including ways to store data, create their own work environment for public use and share large data sets in one space. 

“We make computation and storage available to researchers,” iPlant deputy director Dan Stanzione said. “We also build some of the user-facing tools like web-based environments to make it easier for those doing things like genomics research.”

Specific tools provided by the iPlant program include DNA Subway, a way for researchers to predict and annotate genes, and the iPlant Tree of Life, which allows for a way to navigate easily through genomics and molecular evolution.

The renewed grant increases the National Science Foundation’s investment in the project to $100 million to advance researchers’ understanding of biology. It also allows iPlant to expand its scope to scientists who study crops and livestock and to continue reaching those from all levels of expertise.

iPlant is based at the University of Arizona and partners with the Texas Advanced Computing Center at UT, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

“In iPlant, we’re trying to do all the other things that you need to do just between putting up a supercomputer and getting productive computational science done,” Stanzione said.

Many facilities, including the UT Genomic Sequencing and Analysis Facility, use iPlant for their computational needs.

The facility’s director, Scott Hunicke-Smith, said his center has used the program for more than a year.

“It’s a huge benefit to UT just to have that capability here,” Hunicke-Smith said.

Researchers can create free iPlant accounts to use tools such as mapping the links between genotypes and phenotypes, understanding phylogenetic relationships between all plant life and even using their own data to run tests on it.

Biology junior Eric Dawson is the only student at Texas Advanced Computing Center who works on iPlant: Benchmarking. Dawson works on installing and optimizing the applications to make them more accessible to users. He said the grant adds to the University’s research capabilities.

“It puts the whole world of plant biology at the fingertips of anyone who wants to use it,” Dawson said.

Matthew Vaughn, a research associate in computational biology, discusses the goals of iPlant Collaborative on Tuesday evening. The project combines computing and biology in an effort to overcome crop problems.

Photo Credit: Emilia Harris | Daily Texan Staff

UT researchers presented a project joining the future of computational technologies and plant science.

Computational technology will play a critical role in the plant sciences that affect crop development in the future, a UT scientist said in a talk Tuesday.

The iPlant Collaborative is a virtual organization designed to bring together experts from different fields to overcome challenges in plant science. Dan Stanzione, deputy director of UT’s Texas Advanced Computing Center, shared information about the project at the AT&T Conference Center to about 150 people.

The National Science Foundation funded the project in 2008. UT manages it in conjunction with the University of Arizona and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

Plants are an essential part of life due to their production of oxygen and use for creating building materials, clothing and most importantly food, Stanzione said.

Stanzione said current trends paint a grim picture for the future of crops and society, including the spread of over-consumptive diets, the decrease of arable land, population growth, climate change, use of crops for bio-energy instead of consumption and the increase of prices and subsequent political unrest.

“Doing the same old thing will get us less and less results,” he said.

Stanzione said a new computational platform was necessary for scientists to discern the challenges faced by the scientific community in learning more about how plants work and how to solve agricultural problems with this knowledge.

One such problem is understanding the relationship between specific genes and the qualities we care about in plants, also known as phenotypes, said Matthew Vaughn, a research associate at the Texas Advanced Computing Center.

He said iPlant would help restructure the way plant science is done, help overcome practical and theoretical challenges and increase effective communication between researchers.

The presentation was part of the Austin Forum on Science, Technology and Society, an event organized by the Texas Advanced Computing Center, organizer Faith Singer-Villalobos said.

“The goal for the event is to engage the community in topics of science and technology, but more importantly of how they impact society,” Singer-Villalobos said.

She said the monthly events were also an opportunity to network diverse audiences in a comfortable and engaging environment.

Computer sciences senior Joe Cruz said these presentations were an intriguing opportunity to interact with important people in the world of science and technology.

“It gives a glimpse of the world beyond theory and at the industry landscape,” Cruz said.