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New SGI supercomputer will advance engine research

The College of Engineering dedicated its new SGI supercomputer Friday (May 14) with the help of Gov. Tommy Thompson. Thompson was on campus for a progress report on the Wisconsin Small Engine Consortium and to receive a leadership award from WSEC. A unique partnership between the state, college and industry helped the Engine Research Center (ERC) purchase the new supercomputer. The additional computing power will invigorate the center's engine simulation work.

The $1.4 million SGI supercomputer was installed and tested in April. It will increase the computational power available to researchers by roughly 16-fold. The purchase was made possible by an in-kind gift from SGI, based in Mountain View, Cal., and grant support from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. SGI provided more than $340,000 toward the computer's cost, along with an educational use discount. Commerce's Technology Development Fund provided a $315,000 grant to the company, which also went toward the computer purchase.

Jay K. Martin, a mechanical engineering professor and ERC director, said the generous support of the state and SGI made this advance possible.

Looking over new computer

Governor Tommy Thompson was on the engineering campus to help Dean John G. Bollinger christen the new SGI supercomputer. (large image)

"We plan to make this a showcase for high-performance computing," Martin said. "The assistance from the state and from SGI will help us demonstrate advanced computing applications for industry."

Simulating engine functions such as combustion can help the ERC answer questions about the basic principles of engine performance. That's a first step in designing engines that run cleaner and more fuel-efficiently. The ERC has a core $11 million, five-year grant from the Department of Defense and does a majority of its research on diesel engines. A research group of about 40 of the faculty, staff and students will have projects on the machine.

Wisconsin benefits from the purchase, Martin said, because it enhances research for the state's extensive small-engine manufacturing industry. Since 1993, the engineering college has run the Wisconsin Small Engine Consortium to improve the fuel efficiency and emissions of engines for everything from lawn mowers to boats. Member companies include Briggs and Stratton, Mercury Marine, Tecumseh and Harley Davidson.

Commerce Secretary Brenda J. Blanchard said the department was pleased to support SGI's effort to upgrade the center's technology.

"The ERC is a leader in the development of engine simulation technologies and collaborates with numerous automotive, diesel and small-engine manufacturers," she said.

The 32-processor supercomputer will add significantly to the ERC's already powerful computing tools. The center's current Cray supercomputer will now focus on running large-scale projects for which it is well-suited. Back in 1994, the ERC was the first state institution to purchase a Wisconsin-built Cray. SGI, which purchased Cray Research in 1996, operates a plant in Chippewa Falls, Wis., that specializes in the manufacture of high-performance servers and supercomputers for scientific and industrial use.