Jennifer Muzyka speaks at unveiling of new supercomputer
Professor of Chemistry Jennifer Muzykarecently helped usher in a new era of supercomputing in central Kentucky, when the University of Kentucky installed a supercomputertheoretically capable of completing 140 trillion mathematical calculations per second.
At a celebration of the new supercomputer on Monday, Dec. 3, Muzyka spoke about how the new high processing system will benefit her own research and the research of others at Centre.
“My research involves serious computing power, and the University of Kentucky provides us with supercomputer time for free. I’m working with an interdisciplinary group of scientists at Centre to try to identify potential antibiotics,” Muzyka says. “We are attempting to inhibit an enzyme that bacteria use to synthesize cell walls. Since humans don’t have cell walls, inhibiting this enzyme should not alter any reactions that normally occur in humans. We are doing computational studies of potential inhibitors so that we know which compounds might be good to buy or synthesize. Then our collaborators test the compounds’ effects on bacteria.”
Supercomputers, Muzyka explains, generally are used for and capable of processing large amounts of complicated information at once.
“Your desktop computer has one or maybe two processors, which carry out the calculations of the computer. Really fancy desktop computers might have four processors so that they can work on multiple tasks at once. Supercomputers can have 1,000 processors working on a really big calculation,” says Muzyka. “It’s called parallel processing when there are multiple jobs being carried out all at once. It’s not that easy to accomplish, because you have to write the programs in a way that facilitates the splitting up of the job so that different parts can be performed separately. So there has to be one master processor that directs traffic and keeps track of what the other processors are doing.”
The new supercomputer at UK, a $2.6-million system by Dell, came hand-in-hand with a $1-million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will enable an infrastructure of networking, allowing UK and the supercomputer to connect with other schools across Kentucky.
This cluster, as supercomputers are sometimes called, replaces one installed at UK two years ago. It is more than three times faster than the previous supercomputer and will likely be replaced in three to five years.
For Muzyka, access to the new supercomputer will be beneficial—if not necessary—for her work.
“If we tried to carry out our calculations on standard computers, it could take weeks or months to do a calculation that the supercomputer can do in minutes,” she says. “Needless to say, we would not make significant progress with our calculations if we did not have access to the supercomputer.”