Engineering at Nebraska, Spring 2008
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Swanson Helps UNL Computing Center Support Large Hadron Collider

David Swanson

LiveScience has reported that UNL Computer Science and Engineering's David Swanson is a key figure in data handling arrangements supporting the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), an underground ring 27 kilometers around located at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. The LHC launched operations in mid- 2008 but is currently on hiatus while adjustments are made.


Swanson teamed with particle physicists Ken Bloom and Aaron Dominguez, who had the idea to apply UNL's new research computing center for the benefit of scientists at UNL and across the country, with "The flood of information that will pour from the world's next-generation particle accelerator."

Detectors stationed around the LHC ring are projected to annually produce 15 trillion gigabytes of data that would be farmed out to computing centers worldwide. LiveScience noted "The Nebraska center will allow physicists from many universities to analyze data from the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment - a more than 12,000-ton detector that will record tracks created by hundreds of particles emerging from each collision in the accelerator - while also providing computing power for researchers in other scientific fields."

The LHC computing model has data from the experiments flowing through tiers. The Tier 0 center at CERN takes the data directly from the experiments, stores a copy and sends it to Tier 1 sites. CMS has seven Tier 1 sites in seven nations, and each site partitions its portion of the data based on the types of particles detected and sends these sub-samples off to Tier 2 sites. At the Tier 2 sites, researchers and students finally get their hands on the data. CMS has 30 such sites, seven in the U.S., including one at Nebraska. Physicists will use the data stored at these sites to search for never-before-seen particles or extra dimensions of space by submitting specialized programs to run on the data.


One of the challenges of building a Tier 2 site is preparing it for heavy data flow. According to LiveScience, the Nebraska group has already achieved the fastest transfer rates in the national network that connects Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the U.S. Tier 1 site, with the U.S. Tier 2 sites. Bloom estimated UNL "Can manage a terabyte an hour easily, and a terabyte in half an hour is possible."

As the CMS Tier 2 site at the university is part of the U.S. Open Science Grid, researchers from many fields will analyze data using its computing power during times when CMS researchers aren't keeping the site busy. UNL's data handling participation allows for parallel computations with "programs that perform multiple, simultaneous calculations on different processors and bring the results together at the end... powerful tools for chemists and nanoscientists in particular."