Public Release: 

U. of Chicago receives $48 million to manage National TeraGrid scientific computing network

TeraGrid to enhance access for scientific, engineering research

University of Chicago

The National Science Foundation has awarded $48 million to the University of Chicago over the next five years to operate and expand TeraGrid, a national-scale system of interconnected computers that scientists and engineers are using to solve some of their most challenging problems.

The NSF has concurrently granted another $100 million to the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and seven other institutions to provide computational, storage, instrument and visualization resources that make up the TeraGrid, along with user support and related services.

TeraGrid is the world's largest open computer, storage and networking system. Only the U.S. Department of Energy's weapons laboratories have larger systems, which are dedicated to classified research.

The TeraGrid team expects the system to affect virtually every scientific discipline that requires intensive computing capabilities, from disease diagnosis and weather forecasting to the study of drug interactions with cancer cells and aircraft design simulation.

The name "TeraGrid" stems from "tera," a prefix meaning "trillion." A terabyte is a trillion bytes, or the digital equivalent of the amount of information that could be printed on the paper made from 50,000 trees.

Overseeing the TeraGrid will be Charlie Catlett, a Senior Fellow in the Computation Institute, a joint effort between the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.

One way that TeraGrid is measured is in teraflops--the total number of mathematical operations that can be done in one second, Catlett said. Currently, the TeraGrid's power is just over 60 teraflops. If each of the 300 million people in the United States were to do one calculation per second, it would take them roughly 55 hours to compute as much as the TeraGrid can compute in one second.

"TeraGrid integrates some of the nation's most powerful resources to provide high-capability production services to the scientific community," Catlett said. "This five-year award is really to take the initial TeraGrid system and deepen and evolve its capabilities while continuing to provide a persistent national infrastructure."

The TeraGrid delivered a production system when a coalition of institutions, including the University of Chicago, completed its construction last September. Researchers from Maryland to California already have used the TeraGrid to support their research into projects as wide-ranging as brain imaging of neurological disorders to simulating the evolution of the universe following the big bang.

"TeraGrid unites the scientific and engineering community so that larger, more complex scientific questions can be answered," said Arden Bement, director of the National Science Foundation. "Solving these larger challenges will, in turn, motivate the development of the next generation of cyberinfrastructure."

Construction of the TeraGrid, more formally called the Extensible Terascale Facility, began in 2001 with a $53 million NSF grant to four partners: the University of Chicago/Argonne National Laboratory; the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego; and the Center for Advanced Computing Research at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

TeraGrid expanded to five partners in 2002 with the addition of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. Another four partners were added in 2003: Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee; Purdue University in Indiana; Indiana University, Bloomington; and the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas, Austin.

TeraGrid resources at the eight partner sites are interconnected with a dedicated optical network supporting data transfer between TeraGrid sites at 10 to 30 gigabits per second. Today's most advanced Internet backbones run at 10 gigabits per second.

"This grant is about enabling science by advancing and evolving the TeraGrid system, which at the moment has about a thousand users," Catlett said. "We'll grow that number to what we hope will be in the 7,000 to 10,000 range."

Many of these new users will join TeraGrid through 10 science gateways, with funding for their integration coming from the NSF grant. These gateways will allow more researchers and educators access to the TeraGrid in ways tailored to their special needs through their own desktop computers or through advanced Web portals.

For example, part of the $48 million grant to the University of Chicago will support the integration of a biomedical computer database into the TeraGrid. That project will be led by Rick Stevens, Professor in Computer Science at the University of Chicago and Director of the Mathematics and Computer Science Division at Argonne. Stevens served as project director of TeraGrid during its construction phase, from 2001 to 2004.

The biomedical computer database is called the National Microbial Pathogen Resource Center, which was established in 2004 with an $18 million contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Today approximately 200 scientists use the center to help accelerate their research into the biology and evolution of deadly microorganisms and develop methods for their control. For more information about the center, see

Another science gateway will connect Purdue University's NanoHUB, a Web portal that serves as a resource for research, training and education in nanoelectronics and related fields. "NanoHUB has about a thousand users, including professors and students in courses at seven institutions," Catlett said. "These users have access to databases and computational tools on that Web portal. The partnership with Purdue is to allow users of the portal to run larger jobs that would use supercomputers on the TeraGrid, or deal with larger datasets that use the storage of the TeraGrid," he said.

For more information about TeraGrid, see


Contact: Steve Koppes

Graphic is available upon request

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