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UTEP Students Build Supercomputer, Create Pipeline

Dr. Nigel Ward
Photo courtesy of UTEP
Students build a supercomputer in the
Distributed Computing Lab at UTEP.
The University of Texas at El Paso has received an additional $650,000 from the National Science Foundation for a project to boost minority preparedness in High Performance Computing.

The first award received in 2003 in the amount of $750,000 was used to create the Virgo cluster high-performance computer in the newly created Distributed Computing Lab (DCL) at UTEP. The second award will allow UTEP researchers to build on the research initiatives from the first award.

The cluster was designed, built and used by students in high performance computing research.

“This is really novel to have students build a supercomputer,” said Dr. Patricia Nava, Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UTEP. She and Dr. David Williams serve as Co-Directors of the Distributed Computing Lab. “I really felt strongly about giving the students a sense of ownership of the computer and the lab, because it gives them pride in the collective accomplishments of the group. Building the computer from scratch certainly provides that sense of ownership.”

The project has four main research areas (computer systems, intelligent systems, electrocardiography visualization, and utilization of biopotential signals), each headed up by distinct professors. In addition to Nava and Williams, the research project leads are Dr. Joseph Pierlussi, Professor, and Dr. Ricardo Von Borries, Assistant Professor, both in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UTEP.

The project also aims to develop students’ professional skills. Making a presentation is required of students wishing to participate in the research. According to Nava, UTEP also works heavily to involve them as student co-authors in technical articles about the research they work on, and students are also sent to conferences to make presentations on the projects. In addition, they are expected to participate in outreach.

“We’re reaching all the way down to middle and high school students,” said Nava. “We’re conducting outreach to middle and high school students to inspire their interest in computers, science, and engineering. We’re creating a pipeline of students that are aware and interested in some facet of high performance computing.”

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