College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

New NSF award for high-performance computing

High Performance Computing

From the office of the CIO at Iowa State University

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Iowa State University a $1.8 million grant for a high-performance computing (HPC) system. Nearly all of the grant will go directly to purchasing computer equipment for science and engineering. Iowa State will provide an additional $780k as a matching grant.

Arun Somani
Arun Somani

Arun Somani, distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering, is the principal investigator for the proposal. Additional collaboration was provided by Professors Srinivas Aluru, Rodney O. Fox, Mark S. Gordon, and Eugene S. Takle along with a dozen other faculty members. The equipment purchased will support research of these 17 investigators from eight departments. Any spare cycles will be available to other ISU researchers.

“This is a great thing for the Iowa State campus,” Somani said. “It’s the largest MRI grant ever received for computing equipment. It will be a catalyst for creating awareness for high performance computing as an infrastructure to support research.”

Proposed research involves a mix of algorithm development for parallel architectures and computational modeling, while pursuing compelling applications in biological, material, energy and climate sciences.

The HPC equipment will support four major research areas in addition to many other smaller research projects:

  • Biosciences.
    ISU has the largest bioinformatics graduate program in the nation. The new HPC cluster will serve as the key platform for this initiative.
  • Multiscale methods for grand challenge problems.
    Methods that can span multiple length and time scales will be developed to address “grand challenge” problems such as simulation of atmospheric aerosol formation and design of new materials.
  • Computational fluid dynamics modeling.
    The platform will enable cutting edge research in fluid mechanics and multiphase flows.
  • Coupled dynamics of land use change and regional climate extremes.
    The long-term goal is to integrate policy and climate projection models to capture dynamic coupling between policy-driven agricultural land use change and regional climate.

Somani was especially encouraged by the collaboration involved in writing the grant application as well as the implications it will have for collaboration once the equipment is in place. “It is really going to bring researchers together,” he said.

Chief Information Officer Jim Davis agreed. “The work leading up to the award has been a productive partnership of faculty from many disciplines working together and with university administration and information technology specialists.”The research results made possible by the HPC cluster will have broad national and societal impact ranging from climate change scenarios to wind power generation to plant biotechnology and improved animal breeding and will be available to the broader research community.

The HPC cluster will also greatly enrich ISU’s research infrastructure. Use of the HPC cluster will be incorporated into advanced courses and time will be allocated to train undergraduates and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in computational modeling and algorithm development.


  • Arun Somani, Distinguished Professor & Principal Investigator
  • Jim Davis, Vice Provost for Information Technology & CIO