IEE Seminar: Peter James

Professor of Environmental Management at the University of Bradford
Co-Director, Higher Education Environmental Performance Improvement (HEEPI) Project

Green In Silico Project
Evolving Scientific Research out of the Lab into the Data Center -
Environmental Benefits and Challenges of Scientific Computing

January 13, 2010 | 4:30PM | Bren 3526

Scientific and technical computing is a major element in the energy consumption and carbon emissions of universities and research organisations. Europe’s largest high performance computing (HPC) based research centre has an energy bill approaching $100 million annually. And HPC was found to be 14% of the almost $2 million per annum computing-related electricity bills in a middle-tier, mid-size, UK university, with a similar amount associated with science related conventional computing. The bills and impacts are also growing rapidly as in silico work expands, driven by new opportunities such as enhanced visualisation, and actual substitution for in vivo and in vitro activity, e.g. replacement of physical manipulation of molecules by computer modelling. Absent radical action to improve computing and cooling efficiency, science-based institutions have growing difficulties in meeting environmental regulations and targets (especially in Europe), and are facing energy bills of a size that will greatly constrain actual research and teaching. More positively, in silico research can also create environmental benefits, e.g. speeding up the development of new biofuel molecules through simulation of protein chemistry reaction pathways; replacement of ‘bench science’ lab activities with computational and robotic processes, controlled by scientists in an adjacent ‘science studio’ (thereby minimising the need for energy-intensive laboratory ventilation to ensure safety).

The UK HEEPI project (see supports environmental improvement in British universities, and currently has programmes on green IT and sustainable laboratories. Its new Green In Silico Project (which it is hoped will involve LBNL collaboration) is reaching beyond computing specialists to scientific decision-makers and funders by provide them with a strategic analysis of the environmental implications of trends in scientific computing, and the actions they need to take to make them sustainable. In addition to this specific focus, the
seminar will also provide an opportu- nity for comparative discussion of American and European ‘state of the art’, regulations and other issues with regard to green IT.

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