Physics Gains More Computer Power

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

The Physics Department is in the process of acquiring a battery of high-powered computers that will solve extremely complex mathematical equations at high speed, and help place Boston College at the forefront of American universities in physics research.

Asst. Prof. Jan Engelbrecht (Physics), who is overseeing the computer acquisition, said the high-performance equipment will allow BC faculty to perform cutting-edge research in physics, while giving graduate students necessary training in advanced computers.

"There are few departments that have significantly more powerful computer resources," he said "It puts us at the forefront, allows us to compete right at the front with our colleagues and gives our students the exposure they need."

The high-powered computers, running 24 hours a day and seven days a week, are used to solve the highly complicated mathematical equations at the core of physics research.

"We are studying problems that are so difficult, one of the best routes available is to put them in a computer, which grinds on them for days on end," said Engelbrecht. "These are machines that are a lot faster than the computer on your desk - five or six times faster."

The lab soon will house a super-powered main server, eight to 10 satellite workstations - each many times faster than the typical personal computer - and three so-called "X-Terminals" for use by students in a departmental common area.

Engelbrecht said the new computer lab technology will prove useful to scholars across campus who have high-powered computing needs.

"We would like to see this resource evolve into a multidisciplinary facility, to be used by faculty and advanced students in other departments doing research that requires advanced computing," Engelbrecht said. "This computer will not be used to write a Microsoft Word document or compose a spread-sheet. But if someone has a program that takes 10 weeks to complete on a Macintosh or PC, it will take one week on this computer."

The computer acquisition marks a significant upgrade in computing resources in the Physics Department, where faculty and students previously shared one workstation.

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