LAS CRUCES – To help meet the increased demand for technology jobs, a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant is helping New Mexico State University change the landscape for high-performance computing for students and faculty throughout New Mexico over the next two years. High-performance computers (HPCs) can crunch numbers for complex problems – like those in artificial intelligence, genetics, economics or ecology – and skills with them are highly sought-after. An HPC can be considered a superpowered computer that people are able to share time on. NMSU’s HPC Team includes a group of graduate students, HPC administrators and Diana V. Dugas, principal investigator of the grant and NMSU’s director of instruction and research support – who collaborate to support the system and its users.

Through the CC*Compute grant, NMSU is providing HPC in an easily accessible format to students, even in rural areas, using a personal computer. Currently, NMSU’s HPC cluster is free to use for students and faculty for research and teaching. It can also be accessed remotely with a modest computer and internet connection.

“The goal of the project is to give classrooms their own space to learn and submit jobs on the machine. The grant will give students access to HPC resources, independent of what institution they attend in New Mexico,” Dugas said. “It’s a very exciting thing because the school or college doesn’t need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in their own HPC in order for their students to gain the knowledge and skills that will make them highly competitive for graduate school or the workplace.”

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New Mexico Highlands University is the project’s first collaborator under CC*Compute. The beauty of the system, as Dugas describes it, is that it allows users to “set it and forget it” when it comes to their data analysis. Students can load their jobs into the scheduler, shut down their connection to the HPC, and when the resources become available and it’s their turn in line, the scheduler will run the job the user has submitted. 

“We are so delighted that Highlands students now have access to this high-impact HPC resource and can experience a professional data science environment while taking their science courses,” said Sarah Corey-Rivas, associate professor of biology at NMHU. “Highlands science courses will be enriched with this professional data science HPC environment, broadening student access and preparation for competitive careers in science.”

“Especially during this time of uncertainty, having something like this is incredibly useful,” Dugas said. “It places students on the same level when it comes to computational resources. The data never even has to be on your computer, and an unstable internet connect isn’t a deterrent.”

Dugas pointed out another feature that makes the system particularly efficient and effective for student users. “So much software already installed means that most of what you might need, you will be able to find,” Dugas said. “If a user has a unique need, they can fill out a software request form and, if possible, the HPC admins will install it for them. That means students don’t have to worry about installing or configuring software themselves, and for classrooms, it’s even nicer because it means that everyone has access to the same versions of software.” 

Dugas would like to see students taking their HPC experience out of the classroom and back into their labs. Although CC*Compute can’t support all of the research within the state, the HPC team will share other free regional/national resources available to researchers. 

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On the NMSU campus, the resources will also support unfunded research. 

“Whether researchers realize it or not, many are mentally putting up barriers to their research around computational resources,” Dugas said. “Don’t wait until you have a grant to support your research. Test your idea and strengthen your grant proposal today.”

Those interested in using the NMSU HPC for a class or research or further information on the other free resources available regionally and nationally, contact [email protected].

“EYE ON RESEARCH” is provided by New Mexico State Universi
ty. This week’s feature was written by Minerva Baumann of University Communications. Minerva Baumann can be reached at 575-646-7566, or by email at [email protected].

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