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Sept. 19, 2017
A new high computing cluster on the Northwest Missouri State University campus is giving faculty – and students soon – an opportunity to use and analyze large datasets.
Northwest purchased the high-performance computing (HPC) system – the first of its type in the region – last year after receiving a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. The grant was fully funded for $225,607 and runs through September 2019.
Dr. James Campbell, an assistant professor of biology, who helped lead the effort to secure the grant and purchase the computer believes it provides an advantage, not only to faculty conducting research but to the students who will have opportunities to use the system, which Northwest is calling “Bartik.”
“There’s no substitute for hands-on training,” Campbell said. “It’s one thing to talk about how to log in to systems and how to analyze large datasets. It’s another thing to actually let a student drive and do remote work. In the workplace, data scientists will routinely perform analyses on systems like Bartik.”
A group of Northwest faculty began formulating the idea of purchasing the HPC in response to a desire to teach students to work with large quantities of data. Northwest launched an interdisciplinary undergraduate major in data science and informatics this fall and needed a machine to process the data.
Additionally, while breakthroughs in technology have allowed researchers to gather more data than ever before, it is no longer realistic to analyze and store datasets on a standard laptop. Until this fall, faculty members like Campbell, who studies microbial community structures, frequently tapped into computers at other universities to run their data and download the results.
“That’s a bottleneck that a lot of researchers are facing, especially people in business, marketing and fields like that,” Campbell said. “They can now collect tremendous amounts of data, but they don’t have a way to analyze it. High-performance computing is a necessity that’s come along with a lot of modern data collection.”
Faculty representing Northwest’s computer science and information systems, business, mathematics and statistics, and natural sciences collaborated to write the grant. The successful application allowed Northwest to purchase 21 nodes, or computing devices, equipped with a total of 576 processors and several terabytes of memory.
“The size of the grant is, of course, of considerable importance, but I am also struck by the significant collaboration that it has and will foster across academic units,” said Dr. Michael Steiner, Northwest’s associate provost for undergraduate studies and dean of the College of Arts and Science, which provided additional funding for software to support the HPC. “The opportunity to integrate big data analysis into scholarship and learning experiences across multiple disciplines can be transformative for us.”
Northwest’s HPC is named “Bartik” in honor of Northwest alumna Jean Jennings Bartik, who helped program the world's first electronic computer. The system is housed in the B.D. Owens Library and looks much like a computer server. Users access it through a login and then input commands to generate information.
Faculty are only beginning to explore its uses this fall and, in time, it will service both research and education needs at Northwest. Bartik also will support undergraduate students in mathematics, computer science, business, geographic information systems (GIS) and natural sciences who will be trained to work with big data using coding, statistical and visualization approaches. Northwest also plans to offer access to other universities and public schools.
Northwest faculty members who worked on the grant with Campbell are Dr. Ben Blackford and Dr. Chi Lo Lim in the Melvin D. and Valorie G. Booth School of Business; Dr. Ming Hung and Dr. Eva Wu in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences; Dr. Alisha Campbell, Dr. Himadri Chakraborty and Dr. John Shaw in the Department of Natural Sciences; Dr. David Monismith, a former faculty member in School of Computer Science and Information Systems; and Dr. Jawad Sadek and Dr. Christine Benson in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics as well as Tim Carlyle, Northwest’s manager of infrastructure services.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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