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EPCC Press Release



The University of Edinburgh is becoming Europe's leading centre in the emerging field of computational research, with facilities comparable to the best in the United States, a leading academic has claimed. Arthur Trew, Director of EPCC (Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre) - a technology transfer centre at the University - says Edinburgh's role now mirrors that of US centres of excellence like the San Diego Supercomputer Center and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Illinois. Dr Trew's comments follow the recent success of a British consortium, led by the University of Edinburgh, in winning a 53m contract to deliver the largest high-performance computer for academic use in Europe.

Computational science is an important new approach to scientific research that complements the more traditional methods of theory and experiment. It involves performing numerical simulations using a computer, and has applications in many disciplines, including environmental research, cosmology, engineering, physics, biotechnology, chemistry and engineering. Using supercomputers, scientists can study phenomena that are too small, too large, too short-lived, too dangerous, or too far away to experiment upon directly. The six-year contract won by the Edinburgh-led consortium earlier this month will enable complex modelling in a range of subjects, including drug design, flight simulation and studies into the earth's structure. The contract - known as HPCx - was awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) on behalf of a number of research councils. The Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC) and IBM UK Ltd are also partners in the consortium. The new computer will be located at the CCLRC's Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire. Research development and support will be provided by EPCC and Daresbury Laboratory. The Principal of the University of Edinburgh, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, has welcomed the award of the HPCx contract to the British consortium. "Winning the contract is a great achievement for the University of Edinburgh and CCLRC who have put together the strongest team in the UK. It clearly demonstrates that universities can take on the responsibility of bidding for, winning and managing multi-million pound projects," he said.

IBM has also welcomed the success of the British bid. IBM Education ISU Manager, Ian Green, said: "IBM is delighted to be working with the University of Edinburgh as technology provider for HPCx, which extends and builds on IBM's existing relationship with the University. HPCx will raise the capability threshold for the research community, and leverage IBM's extensive experience in areas such as Grid and Life Science technologies to maximum effect." The consortium-based model has already proved to be an effective way for the University of Edinburgh to diversify its activities - the National e-Science Centre (NeSC) was, for example, set up in partnership with the University of Glasgow. NeSC has quickly established itself as the focal point for the development of e-science in the UK, and is this week hosting two major international meetings - the Fifth Global Grid Forum (GGF5) and the 11th International Symposium on High Performance Distributed Computing (HPDC11).

Charlie Catlett, Chair of the Global Grid Forum and Executive Director of the US National Science Foundation's TeraGrid project, said: "The selection of NeSC as a venue is a strong affirmation of the University of Edinburgh's leadership in Grid computing both within the UK and also globally, as evidenced by the over 850 participants at this week's Global Grid Forum meeting - our largest-ever attendance."

The key role played by the University in winning the HPCx contract builds on two decades of successfully applying novel computing techniques generated by academic research to real-world problems. The recent 3D OPT Microscopy project, which brought together EPCC and the Medical Research Council's Human Genetic Unit, is an example of that approach. The project has dramatically improved the production of the high-quality 3D images that researchers use to gain insight into how genes affect embryo development. The new technique exploits powerful computing technologies to speed-up production of the images - in one demonstration, the processing time was reduced from five hours to 15 minutes.

Dr Richard Baldock, of the MRC Human Genetics Unit, said: "A significant part of biomedical research is moving to a new phase involving substantial computing, informatics and database resources. High-performance computing will be a key tool for day-to-day biological research and the challenge is to use the emerging Grid infrastructure to deliver HPC to the biomedical research bench. The exemplar project between EPCC and the MRC Human Genetics Unit demonstrated what was possible and represents the tip of the iceberg of the computing required for data-mapping, analysis and biological modelling."

For further information, please contact:

Tracy Peet, EPCC Publicity Co-ordinator
Tel: 0131 650 5028
Email: t.peet@epcc.ed.ac.uk

Ronald Kerr, Communications & Public Affairs
University of Edinburgh
Tel: 0131 650 2252
Email: Ronald.Kerr@ed.ac.uk


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