UF Supercomputer Helps Tackle Daunting Problems
A supercomputer housed at the University of Florida is being used by researchers at multiple state universities to address some of Florida’s most-pressing agricultural and environmental problems.
The computer, known as HiPerGator, went live in early 2021 and is touted by higher-education officials as the 22nd-fastest supercomputer in the world. The $50 million supercomputer was a gift to the university from NVIDIA, a Silicon Valley-based tech firm, and company co-founder Chris Malachowsky, a University of Florida graduate.
Researchers at other universities receive access to use the computer’s capabilities.
A committee of the state university system’s Board of Governors received an update on applications for the technology during a meeting Tuesday in Pensacola.
David Norton, vice president for research at UF, detailed how HiPerGator can be used to mitigate citrus greening, a disease that has ravaged Florida’s important citrus industry.
“We set a record low in boxes of oranges (produced) this past year. Critically important to that is understanding what is the inventory of our citrus crops, groves, trees in the state of Florida — their age, their health,” Norton said.
Norton said a company launched by the university can fly drones over citrus groves to take photographic inventories of the trees. Another university-launched company can capture satellite images of the entire state citrus crop “to understand where trees are struggling and what our inventory is,” he said.
The supercomputer is used to process and make sense of the images, Norton said.
“You can imagine the number of images that one has to process from all of that information and to provide it in a timely manner periodically, often enough to be helpful to farmers. That’s not possible unless you use artificial intelligence,” Norton said.
The supercomputer also could be applied in research related to fighting COVID-19, Norton said, pinpointing which variants of the coronavirus could become dominant in the future and helping researchers decide where to place resources for developing new vaccines.
Meanwhile, researchers at Florida International University in Miami are using HiPerGator to address flooding-related issues increasingly affecting South Florida.
Andres Gil, senior vice president for research and economic development at FIU, said the school’s Institute of Environment is using HiPerGator’s artificial intelligence capabilities to predict future coastal flooding.
Sea level rise, seasonal high tides, storm surge, inland rainfall, river flows and rising groundwater levels are among the “complex” set of factors that are taken into account in such predictions, Gil said. Providing predictions could help guide emergency response to flooding.
“The goals of the project that is using HiPerGator is to understand the role of local, regional and remote environmental predictors in sea-level variability using machine learning,” Gil said.
About 120 university users not based at UF have accessed HiPerGator.
Jim Clark, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Florida State University, said Jonathan Adams, a professor in FSU’s School of Information, has used the supercomputer in an application that combines music and medicine.
“He’s been using HiPerGator to create synthetic music via Jukebox, to create binaural beats to ease patient care (for) patients who are in recovery,” Clark said, referring to an AI tool called Jukebox.
FSU is in the “early stages” of determining how best to use artificial intelligence within courses for all students, Clark said.
As universities look to increase the use of the technology, Norton said UF is leveraging the supercomputer across all facets of its research efforts — and that the technology could bring a big return on investment for the state.
“Artificial intelligence is changing the way we do business, in so many different sectors, so many areas, and it’s just one of the many really important areas for the state of Florida to be a leader in,” Norton said.