published Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

UTC SimCenter called ‘gold mine’ for local economy

Audio clip

Dave Turek

SIMCENTER AT A GLANCE

Location: Since 2002, in a 31,000-square-foot facility at 701 East M.L. King Blvd. on the UTC Campus

Staff: More than 20 research faculty, including the former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Henry McDonald, and David Whitfield, one of the co-founders of the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Computational Field Simulation at Mississippi State University.

Students: 35 doctoral students enrolled and involved in research

Mission: Research and doctoral training in computational engineering

Private funding: The program was lured to UTC from Mississippi State, in part with funds from the late Jack Lupton. Foundations and local donors have contributed $18 million to help expand the center.

Clients: U.S. Navy, Goodyear Tire, Cummins Engines, Proctor and Gamble, Bloom Energy, U.S. Xpress, among others

UTC’s SimCenter “is a crown jewel” for Chattanooga and should be commercialized to help the Scenic City grab a piece of the growing $5 billion-a-year market for computer-driven modeling and testing across industries, a top IBM official told community leaders Tuesday.

“Chattanooga has the ability to lead the world,” said Dave Turek, vice president of deep computing for IBM Corp. “You have a gold mine here with the SimCenter, and I know because I travel the world looking for such gems.”

Since moving to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2002, the computational engineering program and research center has grown to more than 20 research faculty who are training dozens of doctoral students, most of whom say they want to stay in the area.

The SimCenter also has been involved in conducting computer simulations for research projects ranging from a new hydrogen cell for Bloom Energy to diesel engine improvements for Cummins Engines.

Mr. Turek said manufacturers are moving from building prototypes and conducting lab tests to designing and analyzing new products entirely with computer simulations.

“Product changes that used to take a year or more to design and test can be done in a matter of minutes” on today’s advanced supercomputers and the algorithms being written at the UTC SimCenter, Mr. Turek said.

In January, IBM donated two high-speed computers to the SimCenter as part of its collaboration with UTC. To help the growth of the SimCenter, the Lyndhurst, Benwood and UC foundations each have pledged $5 million to expand the center.

Combined with other donations from the Maclellan Foundation and private individuals, $18 million in private donations was assembled in 2008. The donors have agreed to spend about half of the money over the next several years to add research staff and to help the SimCenter commercialize more of its activities.

“We’re far more interested in the substance of their work than a new building,” said Sarah Morgan, program officer for the Lyndhurst Foundation.

Former UTC Chancellor Bill Stacy, who helped recruit the SimCenter to Chattanooga in 2002 and heads an advisory group working to expand the center, said Mr. Turek’s endorsement of the UTC center “was even better than I ever envisioned.”

“I knew that this program as the first doctoral program at UTC would make a distinct mark in academics on the national market, but I couldn’t imagine that one of the research directors at IBM would come here and say that this center is one of the best in the world,” Dr. Stacy said.

Although UTC lacks the reputation or wealth of computer powerhouses such as IBM or Harvard University, the SimCenter is poised to capitalize on the next wave of supercomputers and the computational analysis they will open up for design and manufacturing.

“You have nothing to defend, but only the future to embrace,” Mr. Turek said.

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: China may displace Oak Ridge for fastest computer

Article: A new power source in the Valley

Article: Putting rain to work

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