University of Utah Home Page - Alumni Association Home Page - Table of Contents

When a $15 million federally funded building belonging to no particular department appears north of the Park Building, the effect on the University community can be a little bewildering. Just what goes on inside the mysterious Intermountain Network and Scientific Computation Center anyway?

A walk through INSCC's hallways gives no clue. More than any building on campus, the interior resembles an office building, complete with work carrels, small offices, and ubiquitous computer terminals.

What is not visible is the core/electronic center that provides researchers with access to high-power computing that dwarfs the supercomputers of a few years ago. Even more important is that this computing and networking power is used without regard to the usual boundaries that separate disciplines. No less than eight academic departments from the colleges of Science, Engineering, and Mines and Earth Sciences are already joining in projects that range from simulation of explosions, to groundwater studies, to an analysis of the universe as revealed in cosmic ray data.

It is this ability to work together that is the essence of INSCC and, indeed, a strength of the University of Utah itself, arrivals from other institutions frequently note.

At the INSCC building dedication, Research Vice President Richard Koehn said, "INSCC both reflects and represents a significant change in the structure of research, from discipline-based research, to a functional grouping of scientists that ignores traditional academic boundaries."

At its hub is the Center for High-Performance Computing, which provides and maintains four state-of-the-art, large-scale computers, including one of the world's most powerful graphics supercomputing facilities. It doesn't matter to users that some of the computers are physically located in other buildings, because information is shared among workstations across campus. The center is a terminus for the National Science Foundation's vBNS network, the nation's fastest high-speed national communications and computational network. The U of U is also a member of the initiative to create an Internet 2 for high-speed transmission of data.

INSCC is also an example of how investment in research generates a "leveraged" effect in attracting external funding involving tens of millions of dollars. Already there are partnerships with IBM, SGI and SUN, as well as the awarding to the U of the northern hemisphere cosmic ray observatory of the Pierre Auger astrophysics project. The U of U is also one of five University Alliance Centers in the Department of Energy's Accelerate Strategic Computing Initiative.

Koehn says the opening of the new building represents nothing less than a major adaptation to how science is accomplished. "The future successful university, in both research and instruction, will depend on rapid, efficient, inexpensive, and large scale communication of the kind under development in INSCC. This changing paradigm will push non-adapting universities back to the margin of science."

The Advanced Materials and High-Speed Optics project helps researchers design products for the electronic and biomedical industries.

Astrophysical Studies simulates the interaction of cosmic rays with the atmosphere, using data collected from all over the world.

The Center for Simulation of Accidental Fires and Explosions develops models with applications in disaster control and national defense.

The Combustion Research Group is working on developing the most efficient and cleanest industrial furnaces.

High-Energy Theoretical Physics seeks to understand the nature of the universe by describing matter at high energy states.

Mathematical and Computational Biology makes mathematical models of biological systems, such as the operation of the heart or population dynamics.

In Meteorological Studies, the Meteorology Department and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration are working on forecasting the complex weather of the Intermountain West, partly to provide improved forecasts during the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The Seismic and Groundwater Projects group develops parallel computing for uses in mineral exploration and the study of earthquakes.

The Theoretical Chemistry Research Group focuses on

calculating process rates in solids and liquids and chemical problems in material and biological applications.

Not located in the INSCC building, but closely related, is the SGI-Utah Visual Supercomputing Center, which combines high-performance graphics, computing, and data management technology to produce three-dimensional, real-time simulations to help researchers solve complex problems that, until a few years ago, were unapproachable.

Still baffled by the mystery? For further information about INSCC, building tours, and the like, contact Julio Facelli, director of the Center for High Performance Computing, 801-581-7529,

University of Utah Home Page - Alumni Association Home Page - Table of Contents

Copyright 1999 by The University of Utah Alumni Association