URI continues to grow collaborative research computing efforts through federal funding and support

University makes major investment in Massachusetts Green HPC Center

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 7, 2022 – The University of Rhode Island is reaffirming its commitment to high-performance research computing with a major investment in the Massachusetts Green High-Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC). URI became the first academic institution outside of the state of Massachusetts to join the center in November 2021. The center is a collaboration of the five major research universities in Massachusetts – Boston University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, and the University of Massachusetts. Built in 2012, it hosts the research computing infrastructure of its members at its dedicated center in Holyoke, Mass.

Part of this commitment includes the joint purchase of computational hardware and software worth approximately $2.2 million that will offer URI researchers cutting-edge technology. These resources will be installed at the Massachusetts center and will support and grow URI’s high-performance computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence research efforts. The resources will be collectively purchased and managed with UMass Amherst’s research computing team under the UNITY brand. UNITY is a large research instrument being collaboratively built by URI and the UMass system at the center that will support research activities involving computational modeling, data processing and storage, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Beyond those UMass Amherst computational resources that are already available to URI researchers, UMass Dartmouth will also be contributing $600,000 to UNITY thanks to a U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research grant that includes URI Professor Gaurav Khanna as a co-principal investigator.

In recent years, URI has taken its research computing efforts to the next level. URI Chief Information Officer Karlis Kaugars established the IT Research Computing Services team in 2020 with the support of then-Provost Don DeHayes and Vice President for Research & Economic Development Peter Snyder. The team is now led by Khanna, a professor of physics and URI’s founding director of research computing, who joined the University in early 2021.

“I am extremely proud of what our research computing department has been able to achieve in just a short period of time,” said Kaugars. “Working collaboratively within our region to provide faculty with high-performance computing resources has allowed us to accelerate progress in this vital area far faster than we would have been able to working alone.”

In addition to the U.S. Air Force grant, funding for this most recent investment comes from a variety of sources, including a $1.2 million legislative earmark for high performance computing technology at URI secured by U.S. Senator Jack Reed as part of the FY2022 Omnibus spending bill. The funding falls under appropriations for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies and was supported by the URI President’s Office and Graduate School of Oceanography Dean Paula Bontempi.

The University of Massachusetts received a $400,000 collaborative research grant through the National Science Foundation’s Campus Cyberinfrastructure program. The CONTINUUM grant (COllaborative Next-generation Technology In the Northeast: the UMassUnity Machine) will help support UNITY, specifically extending existing resources to support key computational efforts at the UMass Amherst and Dartmouth campuses, and the University of Rhode Island in numerous scientific areas, including collaborations on artificial intelligence and machine learning.

These follow another $1.4 million NSF grant awarded in 2020 to provide resources for students at all levels to facilitate computational research efforts across the state and the northeast region. The CAREERS grant (Cyberteam to Advance Research and Education in Eastern Regional Schools), led by Yale University, is a collaborative effort with URI as well as several other northeastern universities.

Said Kaugars, “Increasingly, scholarly activity is a collaborative endeavor, with cross-disciplinary teams of faculty seeking solutions to grand challenge problems. These types of collaborations are a vital support resource and I expect collaborations among our state flagship institutions to continue to grow in the coming years.”

As a result of these investments, access and support for large-scale computational research resources in Rhode Island is at the highest level it has ever been. To continue to facilitate growth, the University will be adding a number of graduate assistants as well as a Ph.D.-level computational scientist to its IT Research Computing team this fall. URI and UMass have been working closely with the Ocean State Higher Education Economic Development and Administrative Network (OSHEAN) to provide dedicated high-speed network connectivity to the MGHPCC.

These newly established resources and associated support are available to educational institutions across Rhode Island through the NSF CyberTeam-CAREERS Project. Bryant University, Rhode Island College, Salve Regina University and Community College of Rhode Island are among the schools that have already benefited.

Microway Inc. has been chosen as the vendor that will design and build the extensions to UNITY. Microway is a woman-owned company based out of Plymouth, Massachusetts, that has been in the high-performance computing space for decades and has extensive experience working at the MGHPCC.