Faith Singer-Villalobos

The Texas Advanced Computing Center will undergo a $20 million expansion to its facilities at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus over the next year. 

“We were asked what our highest priority was for the center, and one of those was expanding our space and research capabilities,” TACC spokeswoman Faith Singer-Villalobos said.

With the UT System Board of Regents giving the project final approval Thursday, construction is set to begin later this year and
projected to be done by January 2016. The System will fund $10 million for the project, while an anonymous donor put forth the other $10 million. The new building will include office space and a “visualization lab,” located on the northeast quadrant of the J.J. Pickle Campus. The 1,500-sqaure-foot lab will consist of large, flat panel monitors for researchers to observe data. 

“It will be a state of the art facility, and it will allow researchers to study large-scale data analysis and visualizations at extremely high quality,” Singer-Villalobos said.

According to Singer-Villalobos, the facility is classified as a “comprehensive cyber-infrastructure,” which is a technological environment dedicated to research and science. Singer-Villalobos said that there has always been a visualization lab on the UT campus, but TACC recently expressed the need for one of its own on the J.J. Pickle campus.

“TACC’s primary goals are to provide the office space that would consolidate staff from multiple locations into one,” senior project manager Jim
Shackelford said.

The building will house about 70 new employees and 20 students, according to Singer-Villalobos, and there will also be an auditorium for 260 people and a “flexible training” room for 50 people. 

Shackelford said TACC provides research capabilities to those at UT and researchers from around the world.

“TACC has really put UT-Austin on the map as a technological hub,” UT spokesman Gary Susswein said. 

Singer-Villalobos said the TACC has been on campus since 2001 and conducts research in the field of advanced computing while also providing resources such as data-driven computing, data analysis and cloud storage. She also said TACC supports more than 3,000 active and funded research projects.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more research being done with this expansion,” Susswein said.

Dr. Bob Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet and UT Cockrell School of Engineering professor, answers a question at a lecture held at the AT&T Center last night. Dr. Metcalfe was there to discuss Startups, giving students useful advice concerning the creation of innovative companies.

Photo Credit: Andrea Macias-Jimenez | Daily Texan Staff

Innovations that start at UT are central to the way the University changes the world, said engineering professor Robert Metcalfe. Through University startup companies these innovations can materialize to have maximum impact, he said.

Tuesday, the Austin Forum on Science, Technology and Society hosted Metcalfe, who spoke about innovating with University startups.

“The Austin Forum is a premier monthly speaker series on the topic of science and technology,” said Faith Singer-Villalobos, spokesperson for the Texas Advanced Computing Center. “All of our speakers are thought leaders in their fields. We have a wide range of subject matter, experts and topics.”

The forum has hosted a variety of speaker topics ranging from gaming to a clean energy economy, she said.

“[We chose the issue of University startups because] the foundation of this topic is innovation, which UT endeavors to foster across the University,” Singer-Villalobos said.

Metcalfe is a new professor of innovation at the University. He has worked as an engineer, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, journalist and now a professor. He received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2003 for inventing Ethernet, today’s local networking standard.

“Innovation is what happens after invention and discovery,” Metcalfe said. “Invention is carefully cultivated and tended, but innovation grows like a weed.”

He said that networking is especially crucial in establishing successful startups.

“[Some of the main factors in university startups] are innovation and the lifecycle of startups, startup competition, university research, students and successful networking.”

Metcalfe listed what he considered the six species of innovators: research professors, graduating students, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, strategic partners and early adopters.

“Universities are the best bet for innovation,” he said. “It is important to continue combining teaching and research at UT [for continued success].”

Metcalfe discussed the position of UT as a top 10 research university in the U.S. He said this was due in part to the endowment, the scale of research and also the commitment to research at UT.

Catherine Polito, executive director of the Center for Lifelong Engineering Education, and the CLEE encouraged student attendance of the forum. She said that Metcalfe teaches a one semester class on startups and that CLEE sponsored the event and publicized it with engineering students on campus.

“This is the group that [Metcalfe’s] message really resonates with,” she said about UT graduate students.

Metcalfe said he considered students to be the vehicles for the innovation that he discussed.

“Students already come here with great knowledge and ability,” he said. “At UT, we cultivate the talents that they already possess.”

Printed on Wednesday, October 5, 2011 as: Forum discusses innovating within University startups

Senior Operating Systems Specialist David Carver adjusts a wire to Ranger, the largest supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center. Ranger will aid in the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment project’s goal to connect research scientists nationwide.

Photo Credit: Emilia Harris | Daily Texan Staff

UT is participating in a new nationwide project to connect research scientists with the supercomputers and other digital resources that make much of their work possible.

For the next five years the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment, called XSEDE, will integrate advanced computational resources and services housed at institutions nationwide, making them easier for scientists to use, said Faith Singer-Villalobos, a spokeswoman for UT’s Texas Advanced Computing Center.

The National Science Foundation funded the $121 million cyber-infrastructure, which includes the hardware, software, tools and services coordinated in this extensive network, said Singer-Villalobos.

“The digital services provide scientists nationwide with seamless integration to the high-performance computing and data resources,” she said.

Singer-Villalobos said researchers must submit a proposal for free allocation of resources, which will be reviewed by peers on the basis of their science and the impact it could have on society.

The National Science Foundation’s goal in funding the project is to enable scientific discovery by enhancing researcher productivity, said Barry Schneider, a program director in the Office of Cyberinfrastructure at the foundation, in a Texas Advanced Computing Center press release.

The project is run by multiple partnered institutions, including UT, and led by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said Trish Barker, a spokeswoman at the center.

Barker said each site will contribute something different to the project, such as supercomputers, training, support, visualization expertise, data analysis expertise and software maintenance.

“The goal is to provide researchers all across the country, in many different fields, with supercomputers they can use, with data repositories they can access, with networking they can use to move things around from place to place and with tools for collaboration,” she said.

The new network will bring in new researchers and collaboration by solving incompatibility issues and eliminating technical barriers that prevent more effective communication, Barker said.

The project will expand on its predecessor, TeraGrid, which was also funded by the National Science Foundation and lasted for almost a decade, she said.

Jay Boisseau, director of the Texas Advanced Computing Center, said in an email to The Daily Texan that XSEDE has more resources and interfaces beyond high-end computing to facilitate a greater variety of science.

“[The program] will have a more balanced portfolio of digital services — massive data intensive computing systems and high throughput computing systems, different kinds of data storage resources, and more ‘science gateways,’” Boisseau said, referring to simplified user interfaces.

He said the move away from TeraGrid did not interrupt the approximately 10,000 users with active allocations, and those users gained access to the new expanded resources.

Boisseau said additional resources and simplified interfaces will attract scientists from a more diverse set of disciplines, allowing for multidisciplinary advances in science.

The Texas Advanced Computing Center leads user support activities for the project, which help researchers learn to use the new advanced technologies, he said.

“We provide high-performance computing systems, an advanced scientific visualization system and a massive data archival system for the national open science community,” Boisseau said.

He said the center participated in TeraGrid and has an even more involved role in XSEDE, since it has the resources and staff to support the projects.

“We want to help the U.S. maintain scientific leadership while enabling science as a global endeavor,” Boisseau said.

The new program will also focus on education and outreach to help deal with a declining number of people entering the scientific fields, said Samuel Moore, the education and outreach training program coordinator at the Texas Advanced Computing Center.

By participating in research programs, students ranging from middle-schoolers to undergraduates gain analytical skills that benefit them in any future career, and especially those related to engineering, he said.

“We’re giving [students] these experiences and these options so they’ll be able to make an informed choice,” Moore said.

Moore said national and economic security rests on this technology and the ever-decreasing number of people who know how to use and maintain it.