Drexel Names New IT Cluster After Historic Alumnus | Now


Portrait of Susan La Flesche Picotte, 1889 graduate of Woman’s Medical College, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Legacy Center Archives, Drexel College of Medicine

In 2014, when researchers affiliated with the University Research Computing Facility (URCF) at Drexel University decided on the name of its first cluster of high-performance computers, they opted for an ancient mythological choice: Proteus, the god of the sea that changes shape from Greek mythology. .

By naming its replacement IT cluster, URCF has gone with something a little closer to home.

Picotte, which opened in February, is named in honor of Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915), MD, who, according to current research, was the first Native American to become a physician in the United States. graduated in 1889 from one of the previous schools of Drexel University College of Medicine, Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), one of the world’s first medical schools for women and which has graduated many physicians innovative.

Daughter of Pierre La Flesche, or Iron Eye, a chief of the Omaha tribe, Picotte grew up on the Omaha reservation in Nebraska at a time when the U.S. government was forcing tribes to settle on and assimilate. to white society. She was inspired to become a doctor after watching a sick Native American woman die after a white doctor refused to treat her. After graduating a year earlier and leading her class at WMCP, she returned to western Nebraska, initially working as the sole physician of the Omaha and neighboring tribes of Winnebago while working for the Office of Indian Affairs, then treating patients on and off the reservation when she entered private practice. In 1913, she founded a hospital on the reserve – the first private hospital on a Native American reservation – which is now a national historic monument named in her honor.

In addition to her work and medical status, Picotte was a public health advocate, community leader, and social reformer who fought to expand the rights and opportunities of the Omaha people. His pioneering accomplishments have been recognized in the medical and Native American communities, most recently in a PBS 2020 documentary, a 2016 biography, and a 2017 Google Doodle.

“When we were trying to come up with a name for the new Research Computing Center, we wanted to highlight a notable figure in Drexel history, and history more broadly,” said Geoffrey Mainland, PhD, Associate Professor computer science in college. of Computing & Informatics and Chairman of the URCF Governance Council. “In addition to being significantly faster than its predecessor, the Picotte cluster adds support for researchers working with protected health information (PHI), which will enable a whole new class of healthcare-related informatics research at Drexel. “

Picotte, and URCF in general, is an important resource for faculty, professional staff, and students doing IT work at Drexel in many different fields and fields. It offers centralized costs, support and resources in one place specially equipped to support this type of IT installation – with Senior Systems Administrator David Chin, PhD, onsite to manage and run it. Professors can invest their faculty’s start-up funds into existing URCF facilities, and their grants or departments can help expand it by purchasing additional compute nodes, rather than buying and operating their own.

A data server used in Picotte.  Photo credit: David Chin.

A data server used in Picotte. Photo credit: David Chin.

Founded in 2013, the URCF supports a community of people from across the University with extremely varied fields who all use this calculation tool in their own fields. For just a few examples, there is the finite element analysis of materials engineering researchers at the College of Engineering; computational gene sequencing and computational chemistry researchers from the College of Arts and Sciences; machine learning by researchers at the College of Computing & Informatics; and statistical computation by researchers at LeBow College of Business.

Picotte offers new equipment (associate vice president for core technology infrastructure, Ken Blackney negotiated the purchase of Dell), new storage system and new infrastructure for members of the IT research center of the University, which is part of the Office of Research and Innovation. Much of the upgrade includes graphics processing unit (GPU) nodes and large memory machines capable of processing large amounts of data quickly, which is a major upgrade from Proteus’ offerings.

During its first five years, the installation and Proteus supported the research of more than 100 active users and 70 IPs, as well as their teams; generated searches for hundreds of articles; created new courses, supported more than a dozen undergraduate and graduate classes to train students using advanced computing; and generated $ 53.9 million in research spending and 9% of total research spending.

It is the continuation of an investment the University made eight years ago in high performance computing to create URCF and equip it with Proteus. This was the first time that the University had a centralized location to house IT infrastructure, after a $ 2 million renovation of the old firing range between the third and fourth floors of the main building (which housed formerly the University’s rifle programs, including its nationally recognized women’s team and university-wide turkey shooting competitionse century; the range was then closed when the rifle program ended at the start of the 21st century). Previously, researchers spent their time and money buying and maintaining their own computer technology, which was often housed in spaces without adequate cooling and noise blocking measures (when there was even room).

The exterior of the university research computer facility.  Photo credit: David Chin.

The exterior of the university research computer facility. Photo credit: David Chin.

Picotte’s equipment was purchased with funds from an NSF Major Research Instrumentation Grant to Extend Proteus for Data-Intensive Computing, which was awarded to Gail Rosen, PhD, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the College of Engineering , and three co-researchers. (Brigita Urbanc, PhD, Associate Director of the Department of Graduate Studies and Professor in the Department of Physics at the College of Arts and Sciences; Antonios Kontsos, PhD, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Mechanical Engineering at the College of Engineering; and Hasan Ayaz, PhD , Associate Professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Health Sciences and Systems). The grant was $ 540,000, and Joshua Lequieu, PhD, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at the College of Engineering, contributed approximately $ 150,000 of his seed money. Drexel matched the funding, for a total purchase order of nearly $ 1.3 million.

Rosen, who has been a URCF board member since 2013 and president from 2017 to 2019, needed faster architectures with more memory for her data intensive work in computational biology. “DNA files collected from microbial communities around the world consume terabytes per study,” explained Rosen, and said the computation could run “in a fraction of the time on multi-core GPUs,” like the ones that exist today. in Picotte.

The motivation for purchasing the hardware for Picotte was to keep pace with data-intensive applications, Rosen said, and to share the infrastructure (and its consuming maintenance) with the URCF community.

“Although I run a lot of calculations, they can run quickly in parallel and we need a lot of time to write articles,” she said. “Equipment depreciates quickly – so it is more efficient to use the funds if other researchers can use the equipment when we are not.”

The purchase and implementation of Picotte is just a continuation of Rosen’s work for the benefit of the Computer Research Center and the University community. It is also a continuation of how her own research, and that of her group, has benefited from this work.

A data server in Picotte.  Photo credit: David Chin.

A data server in Picotte. Photo credit: David Chin.

“Proteus allowed my group to examine the problems caused by the ‘data deluge’, such as the growth of databases and experimental data, in biology,” said Rosen. “A good example is that we were able to run an algorithm that classifies which organisms are in a microbiome based on their DNA, using time snapshots of a database of exponentially growing genomes. We made our algorithm more efficient and showed that researchers could get better results faster than the traditional computationally inefficient method. These simulation experiments used a lot of computation, and Proteus made that possible. Now we just got a grant from NSF to develop more efficient algorithms for identifying organisms and genes from microbiomes. We could not have shown the effectiveness of our method if we had not had all the calculations provided by Proteus.

Now that Picotte is up and running – there has been a delay and numerous complications due to the COVID-19 pandemic – Mainland is hoping that Picotte’s implementation creates more opportunities for students and faculty in the computation field. GPU and Drexel’s diverse computer research community in general.

“It shows a real commitment and investment on the part of the University in computer science, and it’s something that’s happening here in many disciplines,” Mainland said. “I think it speaks very well of the University that we were able to secure this NSF grant, which shows that the funding agency also values ​​the research being done at Drexel and sees promise in the work we do here.

For more information on the university research computing facility, contact Support for URCF. For more information on the URCF Governance Council, contact the chair.

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