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Your College Gets a Supercomputer! And Yours, and Yours!

Chronicle of Higher Education (08/10/09) Young, Jeffrey R.

There may soon be a supercomputer for every college thanks to the declining assembly costs and growing power of these systems. Monmouth College, for instance, built a homemade supercomputer out of dozens of old high-end computers purchased on eBay for about $200 per unit. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has constructed a series of shared supercomputers that any college can access online. Supercomputers are critical tools for the modeling of complex phenomena, and also are instrumental in many projects that display high-resolution images of data. A 2006 report from the National Science Foundation (NSF) contends that increasing supercomputer access is vital to the maintenance of U.S. research’s competitiveness, and says that “problems of national need” will not be addressed unless more schools and more professors can use supercomputers to tackle their biggest challenges. Last year several colleges initiated a program to spread awareness about supercomputing by designating a professor at each participating campus as a proselytizer and tech-support contact for the NSF-supported TeraGrid supercomputer network. Monmouth professor Christopher G. Fasano, who put together the institution’s supercomputer, is concerned that “a new kind of digital divide” could manifest itself if small colleges do not make appropriate supercomputing investments, and thus fail to draw the best students and researchers. He says that exposure to supercomputing is becoming an essential need for students, especially if they are to go to graduate school in technical disciplines.

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