PSC is Celebrating 25 Years


Michael Levine and Ralph Roskies

Thousands of researchers use its resources annually, scientists from government and industry as well as academia.

The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) — now celebrating 25 years — began as an idea discussed over lunch between two physics professors.

Carnegie Mellon University's Michael Levine knew that the National Science Foundation was soliciting proposals for something that didn't then exist: supercomputing centers to serve U.S. science and engineering research.

"Why don't we submit a proposal?" he asked his friend and research collaborator across the table.

The University of Pittsburgh's Ralph Roskies wondered aloud why the pair would be deserving of a supercomputer.

Levine replied, "Who else should they give it to?"

Recognizing a gap, they soon teamed with Jim Kasdorf, then director of supercomputing at Westinghouse. Kasdorf is now PSC director of special projects.

PSC is a nationally leading center in providing the best possible computing environment for scientists and engineers doing unclassified research.

"We're a service organization," Levine said. "We buy supercomputers and make them available along with the expertise required to use them productively."

Partnership with Westinghouse was a key to PSC's winning proposal. But perhaps even more important to PSC's proposal — and to its staying power as a world-class research center — is the partnership between CMU and Pitt.

Along with many CMU projects, the PSC has contributed to:

  • heart modeling that led to a practical prosthetic valve;
  • protein simulations that were cited in the 2003 Nobel Prize for Chemistry; and
  • storm forecast modeling that for the first time successfully predicted precise location and structure of a severe thunderstorm six hours in advance.

Industrial applications include beverage can modeling by ALCOA and quantum simulation of photochromic technology for sunglasses for PPG Industries.

During the H1N1 outbreak, epidemiological modeling at the PSC supported decision-makers in Allegheny County and in Washington, D.C.

Recently, PSC scientists co-authored a paper in "Nature," the prestigious international science journal, that for the first time presented a wiring diagram for a portion of the brain.

"We're pleased and lucky," Roskies said, "to be, in a sense, voyeurs — to be able to see wonderful and important scientific accomplishments made possible and happening because the technology is progressing at an astounding pace."

He added, "To be a computational scientist is to live in very interesting times."

PSC will highlight achievements over the past 25 years at its Open House April 15, beginning at 1 p.m.

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