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APSU supercomputer cluster helps NASA's 'IMAGE'

November 18, 2003


Small wonder APSU has the most physics majors in the state! Working with their faculty, APSU undergraduates have opportunities to conduct research and work on projects that, generally, are entrusted only to M.S. or doctoral students.

Last summer, APSU senior Brian Pendleton and Dr. Alex King, associate professor of physics, built a 25-node AppleSeed Computer Cluster by linking 25 G4 Macintosh computers--located in the Claxton Building's education labs--to form one supercomputer that has the speed of a $1 million supercomputer.

November 18, 2003


Small wonder APSU has the most physics majors in the state! Working with their faculty, APSU undergraduates have opportunities to conduct research and work on projects that, generally, are entrusted only to M.S. or doctoral students.

Last summer, APSU senior Brian Pendleton and Dr. Alex King, associate professor of physics, built a 25-node AppleSeed Computer Cluster by linking 25 G4 Macintosh computers--located in the Claxton Building's education labs--to form one supercomputer that has the speed of a $1 million supercomputer.
November 18, 2003


Small wonder APSU has the most physics majors in the state! Working with their faculty, APSU undergraduates have opportunities to conduct research and work on projects that, generally, are entrusted only to M.S. or doctoral students.

Last summer, APSU senior Brian Pendleton and Dr. Alex King, associate professor of physics, built a 25-node AppleSeed Computer Cluster by linking 25 G4 Macintosh computers—located in the Claxton Building's education labs--to form one supercomputer that has the speed of a $1 million supercomputer.

The supercomputer cluster is controlled from a main machine in the Sundquist Science Complex. King says, “This has been a cross-disciplinary effort. We received approval from (Dr.) Don Luck (education professor) to use the education lab during its down timeson nights and weekendsfor the cluster. Don has been supportive of the project from the beginning.”

Pendleton, who received a grant from NASA for his work on the supercomputer cluster, spent six years in the U.S. Army as a Chinook mechanic. He was assigned to duty stations in Savannah, Ga., Korea and Italy, before his final assignment at Fort Campbell, Ky.

In the summer of 2000, he retired from the military and began his college career at Austin Peay. A physics minor with a double major in math and computer science, Pendleton plans to work and go to graduate school after his graduation from APSU in May.

The supercomputer cluster King and Pendleton built is being used by the duo to work on a NASA project called IMAGE, an acronym for the lengthy name of a satellite orbiting earth.

King says, "IMAGE uses various cameras to take pictures of the thin envelope of plasma surrounding earth. This plasma gives us an idea of the shape of the earth's magnetic field and how it responds to solar wind.”

This magnetic field, King says, generally shields us from the solar wind, but it can be pushed back by strong solar disturbances. Besides causing auroras over the North and South poles, such disturbances can cause satellites to fail and interfere with communications on earth.

“This is of high interest now, because we've had significant solar activity the last few
weeks,” King says. After using the supercomputer to analyze data taken by IMAGE to determine how the earth's magnetic field responds to solar storms, King and Pendleton will submit their findings to NASA.

According to King, most supercomputers are owned by large research institutions, such as MIT, and such government agencies as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and NASA.

He says, “Our cluster is not that large, but there are not many institutions our size that have operational clusters. None I'm aware of in Tennessee.”
—Dennie Burke