Art design

Tulane professor wins Early Career Award for taming huge supercomputer datasets

Brian Summa, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Tulane, is an expert in big data processing, analysis, and interaction for data visualization and computer graphics applications. (Photo by Rusty Costanza)

Supercomputers are so powerful that the datasets they can produce – huge treasure troves of information needed by scientists, doctors, business leaders, government officials and others – are too large to be easily shared or studied.

A computer scientist at Tulane University has received $750,000 over five years from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to find a way to reduce this data to make it more accessible and easier to analyze.

“The systems that allow scientists to share these datasets right now require significant tuning and expertise to deploy properly,” said Brian Somme, assistant professor of computer science at Tulane University School of Science and Engineering. “It’s more of an art than a science. A component of the work will be to design more formal approaches to their design to simplify the deployment of large data systems.

Another component of the project is to design research approaches for example for scientific data. “I like to think of it as a scientific reverse image search like you did in Google,” he said. “Scientists can give an example dataset and query large databases of scientific datasets to find data that is similar in structure or content to the example.”

The third element is to design approaches that analyze large datasets when they are streamed at low resolution. Currently, he said, the data is too large to share at full resolution, so the project will investigate how smaller versions of the data can provide accurate analyses.

Summa is one of 83 researchers from across the United States to have won a DOE Early Career Award.

Summa received the award as part of DOE Office of Science Early Career Research Programwhich is designed to strengthen the country’s scientific workforce by providing support to outstanding researchers in the early years of their careers, when many are doing their most formative work.

To be eligible for the award, a researcher must be a nontenured assistant or associate professor at a U.S. academic institution or a full-time employee of the DOE National Laboratory who has earned a Ph.D. within the last 10 years.

“Supporting talented researchers early in their careers is essential to fostering scientific creativity and ingenuity within the national research community,” said Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, director of the DOE Office of Science. “Devoting resources to these focused, well-deserved researcher-led projects helps maintain and develop America’s scientific skills for generations to come.”

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