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Will the cities of tomorrow be built on a foundation of data and computation? Among the CI-related events at the 2013 University of Chicago Alumni Weekend was a panel discussing the growing role of data-driven urban policy, featuring Urban Center for Computation and Data director Charlie Catlett, Dean of the Harris School of Public Policy Colm O’Muircheartaigh and Lewis-Sebring Distinguished Service Professor Stephen W. Raudenbush.

In his remarks, Catlett talks about the current window of opportunity for studying cities, produced by the dramatic expansion from narrow, outdated data snapshots to constantly updated streams of open data available to researchers and the public.

“The new opportunity that we have in Chicago is that the city has taken the lead…in publishing data about the city: business permits, food safety inspections, 311 calls, crimes,” Catlett said. “So for the first time ever, if you’re a social scientist, economist, somebody who studies cities, you can actually get real time data from the city of Chicago and begin to study what’s happening in the city right now, not what was happening over the last 20 years or so. The ultimate goal is to be able to ask the question ‘What should we do now?’ as opposed to looking back and saying ‘What should we have done 10 years ago?'”

In response to a question about the insights to be found in large datasets, Catlett also used a colorful metaphor: “As you get to volumes of data, you start to see patterns that you wouldn’t see if you were closer; in a similar way that crop circles aren’t visible if you’re on the ground, but as you get higher up you start to see them.”

The full video of the panel is available below.

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mira-dedication

Even the world’s fastest supercomputers need some time to prep themselves to join society. After eight months of construction and nearly a year of early research projects testing out its capabilities, the 10-petaflop IBM Blue Gene/Q system finally made its official public bow this Monday in a dedication ceremony at the suburban Argonne campus. At the event, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said that the current fifth-fastest supercomputer in the world will allow Argonne and the United States as a whole to continue pushing the boundaries of science and reaping the benefits of research.

“Mira ensures the lab remains a linchpin of scientific research, enabling researchers to tackle extremely complex challenges ranging from improving combustion efficiency in car engines to modeling the progression of deadly diseases in the human body,” Durbin said. “High-performance computing is crucial to U.S. economic growth and competitiveness, saving time, money and energy, boosting our national security and strengthening our economy.  If the United States is to remain a leader in the 21st century, we need to continue investing in the science and innovation that will address our growing energy and environmental demands while building the industries of the future.”

The types of projects that will run on the now fully-active Mira demonstrate how the applications of high-performance computing are broader than ever. Beyond more traditional uses in cosmology and physics — such as a simulation of the universe’s expansion or climate modeling — Mira’s 786,000 processors will also be put to work on models of cellular and viral proteins and testing designs for energy-efficient engineering.

“As supercomputers continue to improve, so do the results. Faster and more sophisticated computers mean better simulations and more accurate predictions,” said CI Senior Fellow Rick Stevens. “Mira will help us tackle increasingly complex problems, achieve faster times to solutions and create more robust models of everything from car engines to the human body.”

For more information about Mira and the dedication ceremony, visit the story from the Argonne Newsroom or watch the video below.

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CERN is known as the current world epicenter of particle physics, the home of the Large Hadron Collider and thousands of scientists expanding our knowledge of the universe’s most basic ingredients. For one day earlier this month, the Geneva, Switzerland laboratory was also a meeting place for scientists, philosophers, musicians, animators and even Will.I.Am to share their grand ideas for the first ever TEDxCERN event. Among the speakers riffing on the theme of “Multiplying Dimensions” was CI Director Ian Foster, who presented his vision for The Discovery Cloud and accelerating the pace of science by bringing advanced data and computation tools to the smaller laboratories and citizen scientists of the world.

What we need to do is to in a sense create a new set of cloud services which do for science what the myriad of business cloud services do for business. We might call it the discovery cloud. It would be a set of services that take on, automate, and allow people to handle or outsource many of the routine activities that currently dominate research…I believe if we do that right, we can really make a transformative difference in how people do science.

You can watch a full video of Foster’s presentation below:

International Science Grid This Week also covered Foster’s talk and another given a day earlier to the information technology team at CERN. In that speech, Foster delivered a similar message about the need to bring advanced cyberinfrastructre to the “99%” of laboratories who can’t afford to build international data grids akin to what CERN used in its discovery of the Higgs boson.

“We have managed to create exceptional infrastructure for the 1%, but what about the rest?” asks Foster. “We have big science, but small labs. How do we deliver cyber infrastructure to small groups? They need something that is frictionless, affordable and sustainable.”

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©CERN Photo: Brice Maximilien / Laurent Egli — at CERN.

©CERN Photo: Brice Maximilien / Laurent Egli — at CERN.

WE CAME, WE SAW, WE CERNED

We were thrilled to spend Friday morning with the folks at TEDxCERN via webcast, enjoying fascinating talks by CI director Ian Foster and several other amazing scientists and educators. Foster’s talk focused on “The Discovery Cloud,” the idea that many complex and time-consuming research tasks can be moved to cloud-based tools, freeing up scientists to accelerate the pace of discovery. We’ll post the video when it’s up, but for now, enjoy this great animation produced for the conference by TED-Ed explaining grid computing, cloud computing and big data.

OTHER NEWS IN COMPUTATIONAL SCIENCE

Speaking of CERN, ISGTW ran a lengthy profile of the computing grid that powers the particle physics research on their Large Hadron Collider. In the three years since the LHC started running, it has produced 70 petabytes of data, which is subsequently distributed around the world to over 150 sites for coordinated and parallel analysis. As Wired wrote back in 2004, the LHC grid was built on Globus Toolkit, created by Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman, “the Lewis and Clark of grid computing.”

Some of the science-as-a-service ideas Foster discussed in his TEDxCERN talk were brought up a week earlier by Renee DiResta in O’Reilly Radar. Companies that provide 3D microscopic scanning, data platforms for computational biology or drug discovery and even connections with freelance scientists are featured.

Computation is eating science, and that’s a good thing…but funding agencies and researchers need to change or be digested, writes Will Schroeder at Kitware.

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Newer, faster supercomputers have allowed scientists to create detailed models of blood flow that help doctors understand what happens at the molecular level. (Photo from Argonne)

Newer, faster supercomputers have allowed scientists to create detailed models of blood flow that help doctors understand what happens at the molecular level. (Photo from Argonne)

This week, some 25 cities around the world are hosting events online and offline as part of Big Data Week, described by its organizers as a “global community and festival of data.” The Chicago portion of the event features several people from the Computation Institute, including two panels on Thursday:  “Data Complexity in the Sciences: The Computation Institute” featuring Ian Foster, Charlie Catlett, Rayid Ghani and Bob George, and  “Science Session with the Open Cloud Consortium” featuring Robert Grossman and his collaborators. Both events are in downtown Chicago, free, and you can register at the above links.

But the CI’s participation in Big Data Week started with two webcast presentations on Tuesday and Wednesday that demonstrated the broad scope of the topic. The biggest data of all is being produced by simulations on the world’s fastest supercomputers, including Argonne’s Mira, the fourth-fastest machine in the world. Mira boasts the ability to 10 quadrillion floating point operations per second, but how do you make sense of the terabytes of data such powerful computation produces on a daily basis?

In his talk “Big Vis,” Joseph Insley of Argonne and the CI explained how he and his team has developed equally impressive visualization technology to keep pace with Mira’s data firehose. Tukey, a 96-node visualization cluster, is Mira’s sidekick, sharing the same software and file systems with its big sibling to more easily take in data and transform it into images. Insley demonstrated how visualization was instrumental in two major simulations conducted on Mira: one studying arterial blood flow and aneurysm rupture in the brain, and another on nothing less than the evolution of the entire universe.

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TEDxCERN_headerWHEN TED MEETS CERN

We’re happy to announce that Computation Institute director Ian Foster will be speaking at the first-ever TEDxCERN conference, to be held May 3rd at the particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. The theme of the conference is “Multiplying Dimensions,” and Foster will speak in the second session on the topic of “Big Process for Big Data.” Other speakers include geneticist George Church, chemist Lee Cronin and philosopher John Searle. A webcast of the conference (hosted by Nobel Laureate George Smoot) will run on the TEDxCERN website, but the CI will also host a viewing party at the University of Chicago. Stay tuned for details, and enjoy the TEDxCERN animation on the origin of the universe — one of five animations (including one on big data) that will premiere at the event.

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THE ILLINOIS SUPERCOMPUTER NEIGHBORHOOD GROWS

On Thursday, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois celebrated the full launch of Blue Waters, their new one-petaflop supercomputer. As part of the ceremony, Governor Pat Quinn declared “Blue Waters Supercomputer Day,” and Senator Dick Durbin saluted the machine and other supercomputers as “the gateway to next-generation research.” The start of 24/7 research was also a proud day for Computation Institute scientists such as Michael Wilde and Daniel Katz, who were involved in getting Blue Waters up and running. Wilde spoke about the supercomputer at the CI’s Petascale Day event last October.

Meanwhile, a couple hundred miles north of Blue Waters, Argonne’s new 10-petaflop supercomputer Mira nears the start of its own full production period later this year. This week, the laboratory released a new timelapse video of the machine’s construction, which you can watch below. But science isn’t waiting for Mira to reach full strength, as demonstrated by this new project on the combustion and detonation of hydrogen-oxygen mixtures — a potential alternative source of fuel.

THE GRAND MOTHER OF CLOUD

In recent years, cloud computing has crossed over from inside baseball IT chatter to the general public. As CI fellow Rob Gardner recently charted, web searches for the term began climbing in 2009 and still vastly out-pace searches for similar buzzwordy topics such as “big data” and “virtualization.” Now that consumers are comfortable with storing files and running programs in the cloud, it’s time for the pioneers of that technology to take their victory laps. One recent round-up of cloud computing mavericks at Forbes tagged CI fellow Kate Keahey as “the grand mother of cloud,” recognizing her early work on infrastructure-as-a-service (Iaas) platforms. Her current project, Nimbus, is dedicated to providing cloud-based infrastructure for scientific laboratories.

OTHER NEWS IN COMPUTATIONAL SCIENCE

A lot of what we know about science may be wrong, but finding those flaws could lead to better discovery in the future. That’s how this article on Txchnologist framed the new Metaknowledge Network led by CI fellow James Evans. “We’re building on decades of this deep work on science and trying to connect it to this computational moment…to get a quantitative understanding of why we have the knowledge we have,” Evans told reporter Rebecca Ruiz.

The open release of data by the city of Chicago hasn’t just improved our understanding of how the city works, but also how we see it. These beautiful visualizations created with the Edifice software (one of the projects at the Open City collaborative) make the neighborhoods of Chicago look like a genomic SNP chip…or an elaborate Lite Brite project.

Many Chicago homes would benefit from improvements that improve energy efficiency, saving them a huge portion of their monthly utility bills. But many residents are unaware of the option or unwilling to bear the up-front expenses needed to retrofit homes to reduce energy usage. According to WBEZ, two University of Chicago students have founded a new startup called Effortless Energy that uses data-mining techniques to both locate and assist these opportunities for conservation and savings.

The “traveling salesman problem” of finding the most efficient route between 20 different cities has long frustrated mathematicians. So English scientists created “programmable goo” to find the shortest route in similar fashion to studies that have used slime mold as navigators. You can read the paper, “Computation of the Traveling Salesman Problem by a Shrinking Blob” at arXiv.

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