Army grant funds research, outreach

By Elizabeth Myers

New Mexico State University is part of a consortium that recently received a $215 million contract from the Army Research Laboratory to manage the Army’s High-Performance Computing Research Center (AHPCRC).

The $660,000 a year NMSU is receiving as part of this contract will fund research and educational outreach programs.

The AHPCRC focuses on high-performance computing in partnership with the Department of the Army, industry and academia. The consortium managing the AHPCRC comprises NMSU, Morgan State University, the University of Texas at El Paso, NASA Ames Research Center, and High Performance Technologies Inc., with Stanford University leading the group.

The AHPCRC supports research and modeling of battlefield environments, sensor networks, enabling technologies, lightweight combat systems, survivability, and nanoand bio-sciences.

“The contract was held by the University of Minnesota for quite a number of years. When the Army put this contract out for bid so that other institutions, including our consortium, would have a chance to participate, we submitted a proposal and won,” said Rudi Schoenmackers, associate dean and director of the Engineering Research Center.

The consortium will fulfill the AHPCRC’s educational mission by creating science education opportunities that emphasize the use of high-performance computing in research and its application to real-world problems. The programs encourage students to pursue degrees or advanced degrees in computational modeling and computer science.

The Army is interested in using the high-performance computing research center to increase its future work force of scientists and engineers, Schoenmackers said. “A strong engineering program such as ours contributes to work force development.”

Research in battlefield technologies at NMSU involves the mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science departments. NMSU has research expertise in these areas, which need highperformance computing to do modeling and simulations, Schoenmackers said.

The mechanical engineering department is conducting research in the area of lightweight combat systems survivability, modeling hummingbird flight for the development of unmanned aircraft.

“The idea is to see what nature’s doing, hummingbirds specifically, and see if we can use that to develop unmanned air vehicles, small ones that would use the same flight principles a hummingbird uses to fly and hover,” Schoenmackers said.

Three sets of experiments will be conducted under the supervision of James Allen, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Some are already under way, such as experiments with hummingbird models. The other experiments involve axisymmetric vortex ring-sphere interactions and flappingplate models.

In the area of biosciences, Jing He of the computer science department is leading a group in researching an intelligent high-performance system to derive the three-dimensional structure of viruses from low-resolution protein density maps.

Knowledge of the three-dimensional structure of viruses is essential for understanding the origination and development of viruses as well as antiviral drug design. Research on engineering virus particles is an emerging field, and a faster way to identify the structure of the virus is critical since the structure is the key to engineering.

The electrical engineering and computer science departments are researching sensornets, wireless sensor networks composed of microsensors with an onboard processor and radio hardware that offer the opportunity to observe the world in great detail. This makes sensornets vital to the future battlefield, where they will be used for information gathering and communication to improve situation awareness.

Secure dissemination and privacy protection of sensor data in the presence of enemies is a primary requirement for deploying sensornets on the battlefield. The research will explore the question of how to process and route the data efficiently while offering the best security and privacy with a limited amount of power.

“All of those are actually pretty complicated problems, challenges for both science and engineering, requiring high-performance computers for finding solutions,” Schoenmackers said.

As part of the contract, NMSU will receive a small computing cluster that will be available to the faculty to support their research. The computers will be used for modeling, simulations, development, tests and some code development.

“Plus the cluster will be available to the rest of the NMSU community; it’s not exclusively tied just to the contract,” Schoenmackers said.

Some of the contract funds have already been used to support the College of Engineering Pre-Freshman Engineering Program (PREP), an academically intense summer program at NMSU designed to prepare pre-college students for careers in science, engineering and mathematics. The program will receive about $165,000 a year through the grant. More than 90 percent of the students who participate in PREP pursue higher education.

Engineering Dean Steven Castillo said the university will benefit from the contract in many ways.

“It will strengthen our research in highperformance computing,” Castillo said. “I can’t emphasize enough that the program also has money in there to broaden the pipeline of students in engineering from New Mexico high schools. This program will allow us to work with students in the middle schools to strengthen their math and computing skills so they will be prepared to pursue these fields at the college level.

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