Computation Institute scientists receive honors

Computation Institute scientists at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory are accruing multiple honors this year, including two by CI director Ian Foster.

Foster will become the first recipient of the High-Performance Parallel and Distributed Computing Achievement Award on June 22 at the 21st international Association for Computing Machinery symposium on HPDC in Delft, The Netherlands. He also will present the achievement award talk, titled “Reflections on 20 Years of Grid Computing.” Earlier this month, the Illinois Technology Association named Foster as its CityLIGHTS Technologist of the Year for 2012.

In related news, ITA named Braintree, a 2007 first-place winner in the New Venture Challenge at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, as the 2012 CityLIGHTS Rising Star Award recipient.

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics also will present the 2012 SIAM Activity Group on Linear Algebra Prize to CI computational mathematician Sou-Cheng Choi and two of her colleagues on June 21 at the SIAM Conference on Applied Linear Algebra in Valencia, Spain.

The new HPDC Achievement Award honors a person who has made long-lasting, influential contributions to the foundations or practice of high-performance parallel and distributed computing.

“This award is very much a recognition of the outstanding work done by the teams at the Distributed Systems Laboratory at Argonne over the past 15-plus years,” Foster said. “My colleagues at the DSL have co-authored nine of the top 22 papers in the HPDC’s past 20 years of publications.”

In addition to directing the Computation Institute, a joint initiative of UChicago and Argonne, Foster holds appointments as the University’s Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor in Computer Science and as associate director of Argonne’s Mathematics and Computer Science Division. He also co-founded Univa UD Inc., which provides grid and cloud computing services.

Foster co-invented grid computing with Carl Kesselman, professor of industrial and systems engineering at the University of Southern California, and Steve Tuecke, CI deputy director, more than a decade ago. Grid computing allows computer services to be delivered reliably and securely on demand and permits the formation and operation of virtual organizations linking people and resources worldwide. Grid computing methods also have contributed to the emergence of cloud computing.

The CityLIGHTS awards annually honor key thought leaders and companies from the Illinois technology sector. The Technologist of the Year Award celebrated Foster as “the individual whose talent has championed true technology innovation, either through new application of existing technology or the development of technology to achieve a truly unique product or service.”

“I am honored to receive this award,” Foster said. “Computation is rapidly becoming a fundamental catalyst to research in almost every discipline, driven in large part by the massive growth in data. It is especially rewarding to have our work in this area recognized by the Illinois technology community.”

Foster continues to develop innovative tools and infrastructure that will enable future research breakthroughs. His MacArthur Foundation-funded CIM-EARTH project aims to combine the best of modern computational and economic science to guide climate and energy policy. His most recent effort with Tuecke, Globus Online, is a cloud-based service that transforms how researchers deal with big data — from how they manage it to how they share it among their colleagues.

Choi will share her award with Christopher Paige, an emeritus professor of computer science at McGill University; and Michael Saunders, a research professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University. SIAM is honoring the trio for their paper, “MINRES-QLP: A Krylov Subspace Method for Indefinite or Singular Symmetric Systems,” which appeared in a 2011 issue of the SIAM Journal on Scientific Computing.

“The authors improve on MINRES, an elegant, efficient and widely used iterative method for linear systems, achieving optimal accuracy and extending the algorithm to the solution of least squares problems,” noted the prize committee’s citation.

Motivating the authors’ work was the frequent breakdown or failure of traditional methods to find the minimum-length solution to a single symmetric or Hermitian system. In other cases, solutions converge but require more than twice the number of iterations to complete the problem.

The authors’ new method involves two phases. Initially it uses iterations from Paige and Saunders’ original minimum-residual MINRES algorithm of 1975. Then it transfers to MINRES-QLP iterations when the problems become moderately ill-conditioned.

“An ill-conditioned problem is one in which the outputs can change significantly in proportion to small changes in the inputs,” said Choi, who will present the award-winning paper at the SIAM conference. “Our new method works well with these problems, avoiding a potential instability in MINRES.”

The SIAM Activity Group on Linear Algebra awards the prize every three years to the authors of the most outstanding papers on a topic in applicable linear algebra published during the three preceding calendar years. Past recipients of the prize include several members of U.S. and foreign national academies and a Turing Award winner.

Choi and Foster, together with their CI colleague Todd Munson, are working on project Open-Source CIM-EARTH Framework (OSCEF) in C++ programming language. OSCEF’s core is a set of methods for formulating and solving large-scale computable general equilibrium models.

OSCEF is anticipated to be released in July and have a wide range of applications in policies pertinent to economics and climate change. The work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, and U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research.