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Tackling Big Data Together

February 21, 2013 - 5:43pm

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PNNL's Olympus supercomputer is one of the computational resources that will be used by members of the Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing. Other resources include the University of Washington's Hyak supercomputer and cloud computing.

PNNL's Olympus supercomputer is one of the computational resources that will be used by members of the Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing. Other resources include the University of Washington's Hyak supercomputer and cloud computing.

To say that you have data means a bunch of unorganized facts. Once you’re able to organize and interpret that data, that’s when you have information. To say you have "big data" means you have datasets so large as to defy human comprehension, like analyzing every meteorological event on the planet – at the same time. 

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Washington recently partnered to create the Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing, which will develop new approaches to teasing information out of such large datasets and train a future generation of researchers on how to think about big data.

They’ll be tackling big challenges facing science and society, like climate change and energy management.

How will advanced computing help solve these challenges? Computing has already transformed science, engineering, and society. Northwest Institute for Advanced Computing researchers will be looking at new approaches to give that data more meaning. They will be looking at the next generation of hardware – the computers themselves – and also the methods of tackling massive data sets.

Biologists, physicists, environmental scientists, and many other researchers regularly encounter or create enormous quantities of data with their experiments. The Large Hadron Collider’s sensors capture 25 petabytes of data annually from electrons they crash into each other at nearly the speed of light. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a digitally capable wide-field telescope, isexpected to pull in 15 terabytes of data per night, which will be processed by supercomputers.

The goal is to take these data and give them meaning and structure through advanced computer system design and computational approaches. Better analysis of biological data can help determine the causes of disease and how to treat health ailments.

Computer modeling can help explain how climate change impacts natural resources such as snow packs and the formation of greenhouse gas-capturing molecules in the atmosphere. And smartphone data can be used to improve urban life, such as decreasing idle traffic while also reducing carbon emissions from cars.

The Institute's research will aim to help solve a wide variety of the world's growing problems. Improved computational techniques can help design a smartelectric grid that reliably delivers energy to keep homes warm and lit.

Located on UW's campus, the Institute will be a center of collaboration where UW and PNNL researchers jointly explore advanced computer system designs, accelerate data-driven scientific discovery and improve computational modeling and simulation. 

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