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UW Student Works on NCAR Supercomputing Project

September 6, 2011
Jared Baker (NCAR)

Jared Baker's summer break wasn't spent on a beach or in the mountains.

The only place Baker wanted to be this summer was at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo.

While most college students enjoyed a respite from homework and exams, Baker spent 10 weeks in front of a computer inside an office where he tested various numerical methods and algorithms in an effort to optimize efficiency at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) near Cheyenne.

"I was just waiting for the spring semester to end," says Baker, a University of Wyoming graduate student in mechanical engineering. "I couldn't wait to get there."

Baker's desire was obvious from the first day, says Aaron Andersen, NWSC project engineer.

"Jared was outstanding," says Andersen, who mentored Baker during the internship. "He was super eager to work and he would turn things around faster than I could keep up with him. I was always thinking, ‘What can I put in front of him next?'"

Baker's work during the summer will be used by NCAR to help ensure proper air flow and cooling inside the NWSC, which is expected to be operational by  next June.

The NWSC is being developed in partnership with UW, the state of Wyoming, Cheyenne LEADS, the Wyoming Business Council and Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power. It will contain some of the world's most powerful supercomputers dedicated to improving scientific understanding of climate change, severe weather, air quality and other vital atmospheric science and geoscience topics. The center will also house a premier data storage and archival facility that holds irreplaceable historical climate records and other information.

"All of Jared's work related directly to the efficiency of the building and will help save money and energy," Andersen says.

Relying on his background in computational fluid dynamics (CFD), a branch of fluid mechanics that uses numerical methods and algorithms to analyze and solve fluid flow challenges, Baker constructed virtual rooms using TileFlow, a 3-D software tool for simulating cooling performance of data centers, and conducted various simulations to collect data on temperature distributions and air flow patterns, among other things.

"These supercomputers have to be cooled significantly," he says. "I'd hate for one of those to overheat."

He adds, "If it works in CFD, then you can move forward in testing. If it doesn't work in CFD, the odds are it's not going to work at all."

A 2006 graduate of Kelly Walsh High School in Casper, Baker enrolled at UW to build his engineering background. But CFD wasn't in his initial plans.

"When I came to the university, I already knew I was going to be an engineer. I was the kid who was always in the chemistry lab after hours (in high school)," he says with a chuckle. "But I began in architectural engineering. Then, one day, one of my professors caught me looking at more mechanical stuff and said, ‘You're in the wrong major,' and I was like, ‘Yep.'

"I literally turned in my change of major form that same day. Ever since then, it's been all mechanical engineering."

Andersen believes Baker made the right choice.

"He asked great questions, he challenged some assumptions and he dove into the inner workings of the software at a level I hadn't anticipated," Andersen says. "He really took what he has learned at the University of Wyoming and applied it here, and that was nice to see. He has a bright future ahead of him."

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