High performance computing in SA given the edge
6 October 2010

Wits University was recently awarded R2,223,000 over three years from the CSIR Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC)* for its innovative cyber technology project. 

The 2010 CHPC Flagship Project was one of two Flagships awarded out of 19 proposals. The Project will be co-led by Prof. Steve Damelin from the Wits School of Computational and Applied Mathematics and Prof. Michael Sears from the Wits School of Computer Science.

Damelin says: “The project will involve multiple projects with undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate students and scientists all over the world in Imaging, Computer Vision, High Performance Computing, Computational Harmonic Analysis and Remote Sensing over the next three years.”

The Wits group working on the 2010 CHPC Flagship Project.Another member of the team, Prof. Ekow Otoo, Acting Head of the School of Computer Science explains: “This project embodies programmes to develop talents and expertise in High Performance Computing. It helps set the stage for active participation in developing next generation computing applications that would require peta-scale and exa-scale super computers. These systems enable applications to be executed in hours as opposed to months on today’s computers.” Other members of the team include Dr Amandine Robin, Michael Mitchley and Nontokozo Mpofu from Wits.

“There are numerous sub-projects contained within the overall Project,” explains Damelin. “We are interested in developing mathematical tools using for example, computational harmonic analysis, differential geometry and approximation theory to apply to important practical problems. A typical example is ultrasound imaging where we study image reconstruction of various parts of the human body in two or three dimensions. Its applications are widespread, for example, in scanning the foetus in vivo during pregnancy or producing the tools to assist doctors in marking areas that are often difficult to assess through other methods, like the boundaries of nerves in tissue.”

The team will also investigate hyperspectral imaging which refers to the simultaneous collection and processing of information from the ultraviolet to the thermal region of the electromagnetic spectrum. “One of our projects will be to apply hyperspectral imaging, using satellite technology to create patterns of data that will enable geologists to study rock materials and minerals that could assist in prospecting for valuable minerals and other resources,” says Damelin. “This is really where the mathematics comes in – the team will look at producing algorithms to compress and represent high dimensional spaces on two dimensional computer screens, and to produce data that is easy to access and understand. This is an example of a ‘cyber loop initiative’ which brings real-life industrial problems to the table to be interrogated and solved mathematically by students and researchers in applied mathematics,” he adds.

Sears concurs: “I think that often problems are superficially very different but that similar tools can be used to address them if you produce a suitable quantitative formulation. Nowadays many areas are forced to deal with huge quantities of high dimensional data that has to be processed rapidly. That brings in computing and data handling issues as well as mathematical and algorithmic ones. It sounds hard, but it’s important work and great fun!”

“This is a remarkable achievement for Wits and it once again proves that Wits staff and students can compete internationally in research and in developing innovation at the highest levels,” concludes Prof. David Sherwell, Head of the Wits School of Computational and Applied Mathematics.

* The CHPC is one of three primary pillars of the national cyber infrastructure intervention supported by the Department of Science and Technology. Its key objectives are to enable South Africa to become globally competitive and to accelerate Africa's socio-economic upliftment through the effective application of high-end cyber infrastructure.

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