Harvey Mudd Granted Supercomputing Currency

Harvey Mudd College researchers have been awarded a large allocation of supercomputing resources to investigate properties of metallic alloys.

The Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) is the most powerful and robust collection of integrated advanced digital resources and supercomputing services in the world. Composed of 12 high-performance supercomputers and storage systems, it is a single virtual system that scientists can use to interactively share computing resources, data and expertise. Universities and other research institutions access XSEDE resources by way of service units (SUs), a kind of computational currency based on central processing unit (CPU) time.

Engineering Professor Lori Bassman and students Shifrah Aron-Dine ’16 and Josh Sanz ’15 are working on the metallic alloys project in collaboration with Jeho Park, scientific computing specialist in the Computing Information Services department, who has served as “campus champion” for XSEDE since 2012. Park calls the grant a huge step forward in terms of computing infrastructure and scope.

“This award not only enables Bassman’s team to exploit one of the fastest supercomputers in the world—the seventh fastest as of November 2014,” says Park, “but also exposes our students to a high-end research computing environment during their undergraduate study.”

The Bassman group was granted XSEDE access for research being conducted under the Harvey Mudd Laspa Fellowship in Applied Mechanics. Bassman and her student team have been simulating structures and properties of high-entropy alloys (HEAs), a new category of metals that have the potential to replace many common metals due to excellent properties that can be tailored to specific applications. (Alloys are materials composed of two and often more metals, typically with superior properties to those of pure metals.) With endless elemental combinations to work with, the experimental research has been labor intensive and limited in scope.

“Unlike traditional alloys, HEAs have four or more elements in roughly equiatomic proportions,” says Bassman. “As we develop novel HEAs, we require large simulations and therefore greater computational resources than were previously available at Harvey Mudd.” The windfall of XSEDE service units will allow the simulations of large numbers of HEAs, allowing the group to more efficiently determine which alloys are potential replacements for expensive or rare metals in materials design, particularly in terms of critical properties like density, strength and ductility.

As XSEDE campus champion, Park oversees the installation, set-up and testing of research applications and provides continuing on-campus support for XSEDE resources. Park conducted the first phases of XSEDE resource testing on campus, applying for Harvey Mudd’s initial startup allocation and later helping Bassman and other faculty members apply for additional allocations. Previously available SUs have been used in chemistry research groups led by professors Katherine Van Heuvelen and Robert Cave to run computationally intensive molecular modeling software, as well as in the engineering research group of Professor Nancy Lape for molecular dynamics simulation and analysis.

The award is valued at almost one million SUs, or $33,000, and is The Claremont Colleges’ first such award from the XSEDE Allocation Resources Committee. Harvey Mudd is one of just 16 undergraduate-only institutions on the XSEDE allocation list (out of 365 total). Park says the award differentiates Harvey Mudd from other undergraduate-only colleges on the list: “With over 1.7 million active SUs, including the Bassman group’s allocation, Harvey Mudd College leads the undergraduate pack in terms of allocation.”