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UW Opens High-tech Lab

by Peter Baumann

This article ran in the Laramie Boomerang on Sunday, October 10, 2010, and is available online.

Ribbon CuttingWith 128 cores and 128 virtual cores combining for an estimated teraflop of computational power - about 256 times the performance of a consumer desktop computer - University of Wyoming faculty, students and industry movers present at Friday's ribbon-cutting for the Encana Integrated Data Simulation Data Center had a lot to celebrate.

"I look so forward to seeing what these young guys (students) are going to do for us in the next 10 years, because what we need is affordable clean energy," Encana executive vice president and UW alumnus Eric Marsh said. "We have that in natural gas, and I think these guys will make it even better going forward. By giving them the tools such as the Halliburton (and Schlumberger) software and the data to work with, these guys are going to come out of Wyoming and be able to do fantastic things for us as a society... you guys are going to have what I think is a state of the art facility."

The simulations lab, which opened in August and was funded through a $2 million gift from Encana matched by the state of Wyoming, will enable students to create three-dimensional renderings of oil and gas development areas, detailing stratum 12,000 feet below the surface. Marsh said the software and technology allows students to run simulations of drill wells 30-40 years into the future predicting the life and output of wells.

Eric Marsh"We can model Jonah (Field) for instance, and we can put a well bore in the model and start producing it. We can figure what the well will ultimately make and advance it," Marsh said.

The computer cluster that powers the laboratory is one of the most powerful on campus, UW petroleum/chemical engineering department head Andrew Hansen said.

"That cluster is necessary to drive all of these machines and supply them with the oil and gas databases we're collecting for the students to work on to do their three-dimensional modeling," Hansen said. "Right now we have 31 gigs going back and forth, potentially, from this room through the wall. It's remarkable."

Technology is not the only determining factor in future energy development; as drilling capabilities evolve, the energy industry will require more and more collaboration among different fields of expertise. UW geophysics student Amit Padhi said facilities such as the simulations lab would be crucial for dialogue between engineers and physicists.

"When we come to collaborate with the petroleum engineers, I actually need to show them how I created the model and how the gridding has been done," Padhi said.

Eric Marsh"All of that has to be shown, and this is a great way to do that. I can have geophysicists here, petroleum engineers here looking at the visualization and discussing how to best approach a problem."

The laboratory also has implications for other fields of study such as mechanical, civil and mechanical engineering, Professor Vladimir Alvarado said.

"This is a multipurpose facility. It's powerful enough that you can install any kind of software that is compatible with the hardware here, and they don't have to be petroleum-based. We're already teaching two chemical engineering classes here," he said.

In the coming year, the lab will also facilitate education for industry professionals around the state and region, Alvarado said, through the lab's ability to broadcast visually off-site.

"If people can't come here, we can reach them with media sites and the cameras we have," Alvarado said. "The potential of this room is not limited by the physical space. We can have whole conferences here because we can send four different outputs from this facility."


Top Photo - The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Encana Integrated Data Simulation Data Center, with (l-r) UW President Tom Buchanan, Encana Executive Vice President Eric Marsh, and UW Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Andy Hansen. (Courtesy Andy Carpenean/Boomerang photographer)

Middle Photo - Eric Marsh, executive vice president of Encana, answers questions with a 3-D model of the Moxa Arch energy development area behind him Friday at the University of Wyoming. (Courtesy Andy Carpenean/Boomerang photographer)

Bottom Photo - Eric Marsh, executive vice president of Encana, discusses the 3-D model of Moxa Arch. (Courtesy UW College of Engineering and Applied Science)

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