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Matt McCoy is a mathematics major at Bluffton University, but the sophomore from Archbold, Ohio, has several other academic interests, too.

In November, he had an opportunity to explore one of them on a level "most undergraduates don’t get to see," according to Dr. Stephen Harnish, a professor and chair of math at Bluffton.

Matt McCoy works with Dr. Stephen Harnish
McCoy accompanied Harnish to SC12, an international supercomputing conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. And while he attended presentations, hands-on workshops and tutorials there, he was much more than a passive observer, Harnish noted.

At the conference, McCoy helped Harnish build a computer "minicluster" that will become Bluffton’s own. Awarded to the university through a competitive application process, it will be used this spring, Harnish said, to augment his ongoing molecular dynamics research at the Ohio Supercomputer Center, as a learning "playground" for math and information technology majors and to develop student projects for math courses.

Harnish also plans to demonstrate its capabilities during a spring visit to China West Normal University, with which Bluffton has started a collaborative relationship.

Slightly larger than some desktop computers, the minicluster—called LittleFe—includes six processors that work together simultaneously for "parallel processing," Harnish explained. Exploring those processing capabilities before and during the conference, he added, has given McCoy a good feel for independent research in computer science.

Having taken three Bluffton computer courses as a first-year student, "he had both the background and level of interest to explore computer science career options" at the event, Harnish said.

McCoy described "building a high-performance computer from the ground up" as one of his conference highlights. Among the others was a tutorial offered by an engineering company that uses high-performance computing for such purposes as testing stresses on roads and buildings.

His other interests include engineering and physics, as well as finance. Now he just has to figure out which field—math, computer science or otherwise—that he wants to pursue. "Right now, I’m still trying to decide," the sophomore said.


Bluffton public relations, 1/3/13