Lunch & Learn: High Performance Computing at Princeton – Spring 2010

Molecule visualization

Princeton University has created a cyberinfrastructure, says Curt Hillegas, the Director of Princeton’s TIGRESS High Performance Computing and Visualization Center, itself a collaboration between the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering (PICSciE). Developed within the past decade, this cyberinfrastructure consists of computational systems, data and information management, advanced instruments, visualization environments, and people, all linked together by software and advanced networks to improve scholarly productivity and enable knowledge breakthroughs and discoveries not otherwise possible.

At the April 8 Lunch ‘n Learn seminar, Hillegas noted that the University’s research computing activity has grown to keep pace with and to provide leadership for this international trend. Tigress maintains a vast hardware and storage infrastructure. And staff provide support for programming and for the new visualization facilities within the Lewis Science library.

The effort, of course, also involves faculty across many disciplines and departments. This session highlighted the work of two University faculty: Professor Annabella Selloni from Chemistry and Professor Clarence Rowley from Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The session demonstrated how computational science and engineering is enabling and accelerating scientific discovery.

Annabella Selloni’s research activity is aimed at obtaining a microscopic understanding of the property of materials with specific emphasis on surface and interface phenomena. At the Lunch ‘n Learn seminar, she discussed the quest to discover an efficient and perhaps less expensive alternative to platinum as a catalyst for the production of hydrogen. Princeton’s high performance computing systems have permitted her to model and to manipulate functionalized electrodes. At the seminar, she played simulations that illustrate how small surface changes can have a significant effect in the production of hydrogen.


Professor Clarence Rowley is modeling flows past a cavity, as would occur with a sun roof or an aircraft wheel well or weapons bay. Although his efforts have employed the processing power of a supercomputer, his aim has been to achieve workable results and a control design with a much more limited number of equations. Full systems require as many as 2,000,000 equations. Rowley now has control designs based upon just two equations. With such active control, it may be possible, for example, to mimic the fluid dynamics of insects and small birds and to design a controller to stabilize the leading edge of aircraft wings.


Hillegas concluded by inviting prospective users to apply to use the Tigress HPC resources. Users will find all the information needed to select the resources they need as well as information about applying for an account and time on the systems.

About the speakers:

selloni2.jpgAfter undergraduate studies at the University La Sapienza, Roma (Italy), Annabella Selloni graduated from the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne-Switzerland (1979). This was followed by a postdoctoral position at IBM T.J.Watson Research Center, in Yorktown Heights (1980-1982). She has been Assistant Professor at the University La Sapienza in Roma (1982-1988), Associate Professor at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy (1988-1995), and Associate Professor at the University of Geneva, Switzerland (1996-1999). In 1999 she joined the Dept of Chemistry of Princeton University, initially as Senior Research Staff and Lecturer, and as a full Professor (since 2009). Her research interests are in theoretical and computational condensed matter physics and chemistry, with particular focus on the use of first principles electronic structure and molecular dynamics methods to obtain an atomic scale understanding of the structural and electronic properties of surfaces and interfaces, including organic-inorganic and solid-liquid interfaces, surface reactions and catalysis, photochemistry and photocatalysis. Prof. Selloni has over 160 publications in the area of theoretical / computational chemical physics. She is part of the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Chemical Physics and Surface Science.

rowley1.jpgProfessor Clarence Rowley received his B.S.E degree from Princeton University, and his M.S. and Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology. He joined the Princeton faculty in 2001, and he is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and an Associated faculty member in the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics. His research interests involve modeling and control of complex systems, particularly fluids systems with specific areas of interest including modeling and model reduction for bifurcation analysis and control; numerical methods, both for fluids simulations, and analysis of dynamical systems; and applications of geometric methods in fluid mechanics.

hillegas2.jpgCurt Hillegas received his B.S. in Chemistry from Lehigh University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Chemistry from Princeton University. Curt is the Director of Princeton’s TIGRESS High Performance Computing and Visualization Center, a collaboration between the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering and the Office of Information Technology. He has helped to build a centrally managed research computing infrastructure that includes 65 TFLOPS of computational systems and 1 PB of shared storage as well as staffing for system administration, programming, and visualization support. He also serves on the Steering Committee for the EDUCAUSE Campus Cyberinfrastructure working group. Curt’s past work at Princeton includes managing the enterprise Unix group, architecting enterprise server and storage solutions, designing and managing central email infrastructure, and general Unix system administration.

The podcast and presentations are available.

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