Harrisburg University supercomputer gives students hands-on experience


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Just beyond the shelves of computer towers at Harrisburg University, computer science student William Lieske plugs away on his computer, while all around him, charts of data fill the monitors.

“I’ll get up at five and take the bus up to the school and then start plugging away in the lab here,” Lieske said. “Every single day I come away learning something new.”

It’s not a class, but he has been working hard, alongside other students and faculty, building a supercomputer.

“A supercomputer is a collective capability of multiple computers on one rack that is enabling researchers to do stuff that cannot be done with regular PCs or laptops,” said Majid Shaalan, the university’s director of computer science.

The supercomputer has the computing power of more than 500 computers.

“It’s a scalable system, so we keep adding as we’re picking up more work or projects from programs and student groups,” Shaalan said.

Shaalan says the machine, three years in the making, was built from scratch.

“It doesn’t make sense to us to buy time and computing power from Amazon or Google or other vendors,” Shaalan said.

Besides supporting the university’s needs through their cloud storage, Shaalan says it’s all about helping students learn, through research and testing.

“This is very necessary to complement the theoretical knowledge that they’re getting in the classroom,” Shaalan said.

Through a collaborative research project, Harrisburg University is using its supercomputer to analyze data from the FBI about serial killers.

“Finding clues and patterns that can decide or tell more about the behavior of that specific killer,” Shaalan said.

It could help law enforcement with predictive patterns.

“So, if we can solve this problem with this data set, we can move on to the other level and deal directly with these establishments,” Shaalan said.

The lab is still being configured for classes to learn and work, but for those already involved, the experience is unmatched.

“We’ve done stuff here that I would have never been able to experience unless I had gone into the workforce,” Lieske said.

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