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CFI Funding Supports the Purchase of a High Performance Computer Cluster for Trent's Physics Department

Prof. Bill Atkinson to receive New Opportunities Funding to support his research in the simulation of new and complex materials

Monday, April 26, 2004, Peterborough

Trent University Assistant Professor William Atkinson has been awarded a $19,675 grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation's (CFI) New Opportunities Fund for the purchase and installation of a high performance computer cluster. This award was among $29.9 million in funding announced earlier today in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

The cluster will be housed in the Physics department at Trent University and is intended to be complementary to existing regional facilities. Trent's cluster will be used as a platform for developing new scientific software and training students.

"High performance computing has always meant big money, and supercomputers used to be quite rare. In the last few years, it has become possible to build supercomputers by connecting lots of small desktop machines together into 'clusters.' Instead of millions of dollars, high performance computing now costs tens of thousands of dollars," explains Prof. Atkinson. "This is a pretty exciting development. It has made high-performance computing affordable for your average physicist. All kinds of problems that were too complicated to address five years ago, can suddenly be answered."

Prof. Atkinson explains that ultimately, his goal will be to take the software developed at Trent and run it on a large regional supercomputer, such as the High Performance Computing Virtual Laboratory (HPCVL). Eastern Ontario has one of the larger high-performance computers in Canada; the HPCVL is
administered by Queen's University, Carleton University, Royal Military College and the University of Ottawa.

Prof. Atkinson joined Trent in September 2003 from Southern Illinois University. The cluster will enable him to continue his vigorous research program in materials simulation and modelling.

Computer simulations are an important part of understanding complex materials at the most fundamental levels, says Prof. Atkinson, adding there has been a real boom in this area of research. Researchers develop models based on what they think might be happening, and simulate various experiments using the models. When the simulations match the results of enough real experiments, it is usually a sign that the model is correct. As materials have become more complex, computers have played a bigger role in the process.

"This is a cutting-edge area in physics, but also an area where I believe there will be a demand for skilled workers - from banks, to car manufacturers, to animation companies - people are starting to look to high performance computer clusters as a place to run some very complicated software."

Most of Prof. Atkinson's research has involved the study of high temperature superconductors (HTS). These are fascinating materials; we still don't understand how they work, he says. When they get cold enough (-180C), magnets will float above their surface - just hover there. Prof. Atkinson has been trying to understand what is going on at the microscopic level as well as what is happening that gives
these materials their special properties.

HTS were discovered in 1986 (the 1987 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded for their discovery). They opened up a whole new field of physics in the 1990s.

The CFI's New Opportunities Fund enables eligible universities to provide research infrastructure for newly-recruited faculty members, in their first full-time academic appointment in Canadian degree-granting institutions, so that these researchers can undertake leading-edge research. The fund also enables institutions to recruit new faculty members in the areas of research identified as priorities in their strategic research plans.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) is an independent corporation created in 1997 by the Government of Canada to fund research infrastructure. The CFI's mandate is to strengthen the ability of Canadian universities, colleges, research hospitals, and other non-profit institutions to carry out world-class research and technology development that will benefit Canadians.

With CFI funding approved, the University will pursue a matching grant from the provincial funding agency, Ontario Innovation Trust.

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For further information, please contact:

Prof. William Atkinson, 748-1011, ext. 5220


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Last Updated April 26, 2004