Professor wins NSF award for software development

Thu, 04/10/2014

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Cody Howard
School of Engineering
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LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas professor has received one of the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards for junior faculty members. 

Andy Gill, assistant professor in electrical engineering and computer science, earned an Early Career Development (CAREER) Award. The National Science Foundation, which issues the awards, supports new faculty who have shown exceptional promise in teaching and research. Gill received a five-year, $521,000 award to develop software that explores tradeoffs in the design of high-performance computing (HPC) systems. 

“I am delighted to receive this award,” Gill said. “The CAREER funding will allow KU to investigate new ways of writing high-performance systems, building bridges between existing tools that will allow a wider range of programmers to develop high-performance solutions. We want high-performance computing to be accessible to nonspecialists, not just computer scientists and computer engineers.” 

Designers are reaching the limits of miniaturization. It is much harder to continue making smaller, faster processors for computers, smartphones and other electronic devices. Instead, researchers are linking computers together to create powerful research platforms. If used efficiently, the new approach offers enormous computing power. These multiple cores, or computers, crunch data in a fraction of the time it would take using individual desktop computers. 

HPC allows complex problems to be solved in hours or days rather than years because its processes different parts of a problem simultaneously. It does not solve a problem in a step-by-step fashion but rather works in parallel. Using HPC resources, researchers are attempting to solve complex problems, such as the causes of autism and climate change.  

Gill said an efficient HPC platform can run much faster than one slowed down by disorganized processes. His project, “CAREER: Filling the Gaps in Domain-Specific Functional-Based Solutions for High-Performance Execution,” will create software to make efficiency more accessible in high-performance computing.  Just as power steering makes it easier for drivers, the KU software will allow designers to easily assess whether they are getting the maximum performance out of the hardware.

To boost performance, researchers must consider a series of tradeoffs in power, memory and storage. For example, it is sometimes more efficient to use only a few cores rather than the thousands available, because for some problems, communication among cores costs more that the computations themselves. Gill compared the proposed tools to using Google Maps, where users easily compare the costs of walking, taking the bus or driving a car to reach their destination. In much the same way, the KU tools will allow programmers to compare many different ways of using computing resources to complete complex tasks. By quickly comparing solutions, users can spend more time focusing on what a program does, rather than how it is executed, Gill said.

In addition to using surfaces like GPUs and FPGAs on established problems, KU graduate and undergraduate students will use the software to test their hardware/software designs for international competition. For the first time, students will enter the Formal Methods and Models for System Design (MEMOCODE) contest. Previous student competitions include locating millions of sequences in the human genome and extracting 3D information from digital images, with teams having a month to create the best possible high-performance solution.

“The problems posed by MEMOCODE are an ideal test bench for our ideas. This is a great opportunity to compete against others and gain objective feedback about how our tools perform in practice,” Gill said. 

In 2013, Gill received a Distinguished Visiting Fellowship from the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance. He gave a series of lectures on his research at leading Scottish universities.

He has earned multiple teaching awards at KU. Graduating EECS seniors selected him for the Harry Talley Excellence in Teaching Award in 2009. The following year, he was an honoree at the Celebration of Teaching Reception hosted by the Center of Teaching Excellence. 



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Poet offers insights to Jayhawk experience through wordplay "Welcome to KU. Where questions rest, in stacks of answers from the past. …" Listen to Topher Enneking, a spoken word poet and former KU football player, as he weaves the experience of KU and its traditions through this storytelling and wordplay performance. Learn more about KU traditions at http://www.ku.edu/about/traditions/. Welcome to KU. Where questions rest in stacks of answers from the past. Where dreams crawl out of bed And learn to walk Uphill both ways. Where freshmen stand on stilts And hang from the rafters, While the wheat waves In a fieldhouse Where the Phog rolls in Helping us to see Through the past into the future. Haunting hosts giving handouts in a heritage Too heavy to grasp til you add to it. So it may be born anew, Allowing our boots to stand in the ash of oppression’s hate But shine bright as the sun While war cries of warriors past Ring in our ears long after their battles are won. Memorials telling time, “you don’t have to stand still.” Because the top of the world Is just up that Hill. Where our natural history is an awe-struck echo Of world’s fair and equal Past, present and future, prelude and sequel. Where our flags fly above planes. Where we build in chalks that can’t be erased. Stone edifices made to last So you would walk Past their doors, down their halls And let your voice fill their room. Because only in empty silence can destruction loom. So stand tall. Wrap your arms around this crowd Sing our alma mater and sing it out loud. Let your voice sing in chorus and reach other nations Beckoning new Jayhawks to spark new collaborations Because you are the mortar that will hold these walls upright. Your future Your dreams are why Jayhawks did fight For the tradition before you Was merely prelude For what will come next now that you’re at KU.


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