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Big Bucks for Big Data

Christopher Johnson.

The University of Utah’s Scientific Computing and Imaging (SCI) Institute will receive $2.25 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the Obama Administration’s effort to prevent researchers from drowning in massive amounts of information known as “big data.”

The award goes to three SCI Institute computer scientists: Valerio Pascucci, the principal investigator; Chris Johnson, the SCI institute’s director; and Chuck Hansen.

U.S, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced March 29 that six national laboratories and seven universities – including the University of Utah – would collaborate in the five-year, $25 million Scalable Data Management, Analysis and Visualization Institute. The effort was part of the Obama Administration’s Big Data Research and Development Initiative, announced the same day, in which six federal agencies will spend more than $200 million “to greatly improve the tools and techniques needed to access, organize and glean discoveries from huge volumes of digital data”

With the increasing use of supercomputers to study how to treat disease, improve energy efficiency and address climate change and other environmental issues, “scientists all face a common problem: massive amounts of data which must be stored, shared, analyzed and understood,” the Department of Energy says. “And the amount of data continues to grow; scientists who already are falling behind are in danger of being engulfed by massive datasets.”

Says Johnson: “As the scale of computation has exploded, the data produced by these simulations has increased in size, complexity and richness by orders of magnitude, and this trend will continue. Users of scientific computing systems are faced with the daunting task of managing and analyzing their datasets for knowledge discovery.”

The Utah researchers will create new data analysis and visualization software to help Department of Energy scientists “in multiple important applications, including large-scale simulations of climate, combustion and fusion,” Johnson adds.