Rhodes College Team Awarded National Science Foundation Grant to Establish Campus-Wide Research Computing Center

head and shoulder images of college staff
(l-r) Dr. D. Brian Larkins and José Rodriguez

Rhodes College will have a new supercomputing center, thanks to a two-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $389,662. Dr. D. Brian Larkins, associate professor of computer science, is principal investigator, and José Rodriguez, chief information officer, is co-principal investigator for the project, which is titled “CC* Compute: A High-Performance Computing Cluster To Accelerate Research, Education, And Training At Rhodes College.” 

The competitive award will be used to build a supercomputing cluster—inter-connected computers and servers—that will serve as the cornerstone of a campus-wide research computing center. The new computing resource will greatly advance opportunities for students to engage in computation-based scientific research alongside faculty in a wide range of disciplines, including computer science, biology, mathematics, chemistry, and economics. 

The cluster system will support both high-performance and high-throughput workloads with an overall system capacity of 1,584 cores, 9TB of memory, and 504 TB of storage. It will consist of a login server, storage server, 44 compute nodes, and a 100Gbit/s InfiniBand interconnect network. 

“A computing resource of this scale is rare among liberal arts institutions,” explains Larkins. “The cluster will allow faculty and students to conduct research at a dramatically larger scale. Instead of running a single experiment for hours on a desktop computer, for example, researchers will now be able to run thousands of experiments concurrently.”
Larkins and Rodriguez have been working with academic affairs and physical plant staff on building out a dedicated space for the system in Briggs Hall. “We aim to have the system procured and installed by the end of the year,” says Larkins. “This will be one large computing rack with about 50 server machines connected together with a specialized network.” 

“We in the information services division are very excited to support Dr. Larkins and Rhodes in this opportunity to greatly expand the computer science and research possibilities for our faculty and students,” adds Rodriguez.

Rhodes is a research-intensive liberal arts college, and the supercomputing cluster will also:

  • function as a platform for classroom experiences that help students understand how computational methods can be used to better understand the world
  • support class activities in computer science, biology, and mathematics
  • enable researchers to prepare their experiments to run on national compute resources through XSEDE
  • contribute unused computing resources to the Open Science Grid, a national, distributed computing partnership

“This award from NSF demonstrates that it views research at Rhodes as impactful and on the cutting-edge,” says Larkins. “This system will anchor our new campus-wide research computing center and will provide new research opportunities and experiences for our students that many institutions are not equipped for.”