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Correction appended.

Brown's newest researcher has a brand-new name: "Big Rhody."

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning, the University and top Rhode Island officials unveiled Brown's latest research acquisition, a multimillion-dollar supercomputer that promises to boost research capacity and visibility in the Ocean State.

"We need a different dimension to the economy of this state, and research and innovation are going to be the core of that," said Gov. Donald Carcieri '65, who spoke at the ceremony. "If you're going to build an economy with more science, more innovation, more research — you've got to have the tools."

Brown's Vice President for Research Clyde Briant said the site of the supercomputer, built by IBM, could not be more appropriate. The Center for Computation  and Visualization at 180 George St., Brown's first computing center, was donated by the Watson family in 1961 in honor of IBM founder Thomas Watson, Sr.

The building was dedicated during Carcieri's freshman year, the governor said he remembered, when he used to deliver boxes of punch cards to the center to be analyzed in what was then a similarly state-of-the-art IBM machine.

"We've really come a long way since then," Briant said, motioning toward the room that now houses the supercomputer.

Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts '78 said she was impressed at the speed with which Brown and IBM progressed with the project since May, when the two parties signed an initial memorandum of understanding, offering the University affordable equipment and consulting from IBM.

IBM's vice president of technology, Nick Bowen, said when he was growing up in Rhode Island, he never viewed "Little Rhody's" small size as an advantage, but he now hopes the state's sense of closeness will help bring researchers together from different organizations and disciplines around the supercomputer.

"One of the things that everybody who has a supercomputer does is they give it a nickname," Bowen said. "I'd like to propose a name: I'd like to call it ‘Big Rhody.'"

"What we're celebrating here is a computer that is 50 times larger than what Brown had before," he added. "It really means that these scientists are going to be able to solve problems that weren't solvable before."

Speaking at the event, Providence Mayor David Cicilline '83 said, "Rhode Island was the real leader of the Industrial Revolution a century ago, and I think this really is the beginning of Providence and Rhode Island becoming a leader of research, innovation, science and technology."

"In the way the Industrial Revolution brought great prosperity to Rhode Island, this will bring great prosperity to our city," he added. 

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was followed by an official announcement of the supercomputer's opening at Alumnae Hall, at which time the machine was already running at 95 percent efficiency, according to Briant.

At the announcement, Professor of Applied Mathematics Jan Hesthaven, who directs the computation center, emphasized the importance of having a supercomputer on campus to handle the "data explosion" facing researchers.

Processes such as gene sequencing and functional magnetic resonance imaging, which are becoming more common in research, can spit out otherwise unmanageable amounts of data. "We need to have the infrastructure to support that data," he said.

Panelists from the University of Rhode Island and the Women and Infants Hospital shared projects for which they plan to use the supercomputer, including analyzing the genomes of deep-sea microbes and studying the genetics of pre-term delivery.

"Accelerating the pace of the application of contemporary techniques to solve clinical problems more quickly and more directly — that's translational research," said Alpert Medical School James Padbury, who is also pediatrician-in-chief at Women and Infants.

"This is where medicine is going, and we couldn't go there without this resource."

Roberts, in her remarks, echoed the celebratory sentiments.

"Big Rhody is going to show what is best about Little Rhody," she said.

Due to an editing error, a photo caption on yesterday's front page ("Supercomputer welcomed with optimism," Nov. 23) incorrectly identified the figure shown cutting the ribbon at a ceremony for the computer's opening as Gov. Donald Carcieri ‘65. That person should have been identified as the University's vice president for research, Clyde Briant. Carcieri is second from the right in the photo.




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