UM’s newest supercomputer is a portal to new research frontiers

Two giant 18-wheelers traveling nonstop from Seattle pulled up in front of Terremark’s flagship NAP of the Americas data center in downtown Miami on a summer day in 2010. Their precious cargo: a disassembled, Linux-based supercomputer named after a powerful winged horse from Greek mythology. Longer than a city bus, Pegasus—an in-kind donation to the University valued at $2.8 million—consists of more than 5,000 central processing units capable of performing trillions of calculations per second. “Pegasus is absolutely staggering,” says University of Miami computer guru Joel Zysman, director of high-performance computing at UM’s Center for Computational Science (CCS), which is led by UM researcher and biomedical informatics expert Nick Tsinoremas. “It would place in the top 250 supercomputers in the world. We don’t view it as just a computer—it’s a whole computing environment.” Harnessing High-Tech Horsepower Scientists across UM are harnessing the power of Pegasus. William K. Scott, a genetic epidemiologist at the Miller School of Medicine’s John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics, has been using Pegasus as well as other CCS supercomputers to help him search for a gene that prolongs life and promotes successful aging by studying communities with healthy, high-functioning elders. He and other Hussman Institute researchers use Pegasus and other CCS supercomputers to help manage large-scale DNA-sequence data. To help head off another Deepwater-Horizon-style disaster, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science faculty members are using Pegasus to help lay the scientific groundwork for an oil spill early-warning system. And in the College of Engineering, associate professor Gecheng Zha and his students are employing its power to simulate the aerodynamics of a new supersonic bi-directional flying wing that could pick up where the Concorde left off. Zysman points out that CCS’s supercomputing brawn need not be confined only to the hard sciences. “We’re looking for offbeat utilizations—art and art history, law, music,” he says. Clearly, Pegasus’s superb capabilities for organizing, analyzing, manipulating, retrieving, and presenting information provide UM scientists with varied opportunities to soar.