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Sosonkina Wants Old Dominion's High Performance Computing Cluster to be a Community Resource

Many people wish their office computer ran a little faster. Masha Sosonkina is not one of those people.

As part of her research into high performance computing and applications, Sosonkina has been able to work with some of the world's most powerful computers.

A professor of modeling and simulation with Old Dominion University's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, Sosonkina is actively involved in the effort to create a high-performance computing cluster here on campus.

Her goal is to not simply keep that computing power for research scientists at the University. "I'd like to see it become a resource for the community," she said.

Sosonkina came to Old Dominion in 2012 from the Department of Energy's Ames, laboratory in Iowa. Her applied research utilizes modeling and simulation to calculate incredibly complex molecular interactions and structures, so researchers in physics and chemistry can conduct virtual experiments, accessing massive databases of information stored at facilities like the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

In a way, Sosonkina acts as a "librarian" for the other research projects. Based on her knowledge of advanced computing and large-scale architectures, she is able to design algorithms to test problems on a massive scale.

"We do not have good tools to process these large datasets automatically," Sosonkina said. Her research involves designing user interfaces to ad researchers as they work on the frontiers of theoretical physics and chemistry.

"These are computers operated by the Department of Energy. They are neck and neck with the Chinese in terms of being the fastest in the world," Sosonkina said. How fast? They are now approaching 10 to the 18th power of operations per second.

"A goal of the research is to optimize applications to run fast and reliably on these platforms," Sosonkina said.

The Ukrainian-born researcher said one of the biggest challenges to these computers is the amount of energy they consume. Creating energy-efficient computer systems through modeling is another of Sosonkina's research areas.

"By modeling these processes, we can design interfaces to help the high-performance computing occur in a more energy-efficient manner," she said.

This is consistent with Sosonkina's belief that this computer processing power should be more readily available to users in many fields. In her work with Old Dominion's high-performance computing cluster, Sosonkina envisions a resource that can be used by the entire community, combining the bandwidth upgrade that will be provided to campus by the Mid-Atlantic Research Infrastructure Alliance, Inc., with the expertise in computer technologies that exist among faculty and staff of Information Technology Services.

As part of the high-performance computing cluster advisory board, Sosonkina is urging new faculty to use their start-up funds to pool resources to increase the collective processing power of Old Dominion, and training graduate students to use the high performance computing facilities, so they can form other research partnerships.

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