New super computer at Monash University simplifies science into pictures
A new $6 million super computer to be opened at Melbourne's Monash University on Monday will give scientists a powerful new window into visualising, and helping to solve, very complex, data-rich problems.
The computer, dubbed M3, is equipped with powerful graphics capability which turns data into images, giving researchers insights they may not otherwise see.
It is the third super computer to be brought online as part of the MASSIVE project – a strained acronym that stands for Multi-modal Australian ScienceS Imaging and Visualisation Environment – which started in 2010. It already has two supercomputers – M1 located at the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne, and M2 at Monash.
Chief scientist Alan Finkel who will help launch the new M3 computer, said the visualisation capability was critical.
"You cannot understand what you cannot see," he said.
"MASSIVE provides specialised processing power to build three dimensional X-ray images at micrometre resolution or complex maps to summarise the interconnections between millions of brain cells. At a glance, scientists can now visualise and understand these complex structures."
Monash researcher Trevor Lithgow said the very fast processing capability of the allowed his team to see how bacteria became resistant to antibiotics which would guide the development of the next generation of antibiotic drugs.
"In order to make drugs able to control and kill bacteria we need visual knowledge of how these molecular machines work," he said.
Like its earlier cousins M1 and M2, the new M3 computer will be available to many other researchers around Australia.
DECIPHERING THE DATA
Marta Garrido, a brain researcher at the University of Queensland, said access to super computers was critical to her research. Her institute, the Centre of Excellence for Integrative Brain Research, is becoming a MASSIVE partner.
"The brain is wired in an extremely complex way," she said.
"To make sense of the pathways engaged in perception and action we need to use brain imaging techniques that result in vast amounts of data. We use mathematical modelling to decipher this data and these analyses require a lot of computing power."
Ian Smith, Monash University's vice provost (research and research infrastructure), said the MASSIVE computing facility also had very practical applications for health care.
For example, if an accident victim needed a new body part such as a replacement joint, a bespoke part could be obtained by inputting CT scan or MRI data from the patient to a super computer which would design it. Then the part would be fabricated on a 3D printer and surgically implanted.
"You need a super computer to do it quickly," Professor Smith said.
MASSIVE is a collaboration between Monash University, the CSIRO and the Australian Synchrotron.
This week Monash University will also announce it will collaborate on super computer data and graphics applications with the NVIDIA Technology Centre Asia Pacific, based at Singapore's Nanyang Technology University.
The centre, set up last year, is part of Singapore's Smart Nation initiative and will conduct research and develop in deep learning, video analytics.and large-scale data analytics. Monash is the centre's first regional partner.