Virginia Tech performs mission-critical computing research for National Science Foundation
For the past 14 years, Virginia Tech has served as one of only four university-based research sites for the National Science Foundation’s Center for Space, High-Performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC).
SHREC is dedicated to assisting U.S. industrial partners, government agencies, and research organizations in mission-critical computing, with research in: space computing for earth science, space science, and defense; high-performance computing for a broad range of grand-challenge applications; and resilient computing for dependability in harsh or critical environments.
Virginia Tech shares this distinction with the University of Pittsburgh, Brigham Young University, and the University of Florida, where each university receives $750,000 over a five-year period resulting in a total of $3 million for the center.
The science foundation’s collaborative research centers, known as Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers (IUCRC), have a special expertise focused on mission-critical computing, in terms of space, high-performance, and/or resilient computing. Every year, more than 2,000 students engage in industrially-relevant research at centers nationwide, giving them on the job training for a career in the private sector. About 30 percent of these student researchers are hired by the member companies.
“Being a IUCRC can recruit better students and better prepare them through graduate studies with member interaction for supercharged career opportunities after graduation,” said SHREC Director Alan George, who serves as department chair and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh.
Each year, SHREC brings together close to 40 academic, industry, and government organizations to exchange their ideas and bring updates from their respective areas. While these conferences have traditionally been in person, the meetings have more recently moved to a virtual format, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Virginia Tech has benefited from the IUCRC program over the last 14 years, the past four years have been marked with exceptional momentum, said Wu Feng, one of four co-directors of SHREC and professor in the Department of Computer Science, the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.
A launchpad for talent
Since 2018, Virginia Tech has received more than $1.5 million for their portion of SHREC, including a $600,000 NSF IUCRC grant. In addition, the center has received $850,000 of associated research funding from the Department of Defense, AMD, Capital One, and MIT Lincoln Laboratory. This funding could not have timed better with the launch of Virginia's Higher Education Package, including the new Innovation Campus in Alexandria, Virginia.
Both SHREC and the higher education package are examples of front-facing models that move the economy forward to develop talent. The higher education project will propel Virginia’s colleges and universities to produce 25,000 new degrees in computer science and related fields by 2039 to create a tech talent pipeline to support Virginia’s high-tech industry.
With this collective funding, Virginia Tech’s presence in SHREC was augmented with the recent addition of two computer science professors: Chris North in 2020 and Doug Bowman in 2021.
North, who serves as associate director of the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, shared, “SHREC has provided an excellent opportunity for our graduate students to engage with external partners during the course of their research, for the purpose of attracting funding, meeting with stakeholders on a regular basis, and making their thesis work more relevant and impactful.”
Propelled by partnerships
Support for SHREC’s research portfolio comes from academic, industrial and federal partners, but also through equipment and tools provided by leading vendors of technologies in high-performance reconfigurable computing and related areas.
World Wide Technology (WWT), a privately held technology services provider, recently donated a $40,000 experimental computing system to augment the research of both Virginia Tech’s Synergistic Environments for Experimental Computing Center and SHREC. This allows for immediate hands-on access to the latest reconfigurable computing technology — capabilities previously non-existent at Virginia Tech, said Feng. "Think of this as a computer brain (processor) that can change the way that its synapses fire (or operate). The exclusive access to the WWT-donated resource means that we can complete the lengthy process of "re-wiring" the computer brain more quickly and more easily," he said.
"Virginia Tech is an innovator in conducting groundbreaking research," said Shawn Rodriguez, vice president of state and local government and education at World Wide Technology. “We are proud to support Virginia Tech and its research programs.”
SHREC currently supports the research of 49 graduate students across the four member universities, translating to approximately $2 million per year. One of these students is Frank Wanye, a third-year computer science Ph.D. student whose research interests include parallel and distributed computing, graph processing, and big data. He is currently working on two projects funded by SHREC , while also serving as a graduate research assistant at the SyNeRGy Lab, led by Feng.
In 2019, Wanye and Feng received a Student Innovation Award in the MIT/Amazon/IEEE Graph Challenge at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) High Performance Extreme Computing Conference, the world's largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology. Their research was directly supported by SHREC.
The Graph Challenge "encourages community approaches to developing new solutions for analyzing graphs and sparse data derived from social media, sensor feeds, and scientific data to enable relationships between events to be discovered as they unfold in the field." Wanye's paper tackled the community detection problem as part of the Graph Challenge, which included identifying groups within many real-world datasets from sources including social media, the world wide web, communication networks, and biological systems.
At the same conference, Feng, along with co-authors Mohamed Hassan, a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech, and Scott Pakin, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, received the Innovative Paper Award for their groundbreaking work on quantum computing.
One of SHREC’s principal goals includes addressing a shortage in the mission-critical computing workforce by training students with the knowledge and skills necessary to solve the many challenges facing this growing industry.
Traveling to workshops, interacting with other graduate students, and meeting the sponsors — all by-products of being a part of SHREC — has been a tremendous benefit for Wanye. “Talking to others and sharing my work through poster presentations gives me a great understanding of what everyone is working on,” he said.