Portland State receives grant to build powerful climate modeling computer
Author: Julie Rutherford, Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science; Christina Williams, Institute of Sustainable Solutions
Posted: September 10, 2013

How do greenhouse gas trends affect our climate? How do emissions affect our air quality? What roles do small particles in the atmosphere play in reflecting solar energy back out into space? How—and how soon—can we increase the energy efficiency of our urban and national transportation systems to minimize human effects on climate? 
These are just a few of the questions that Portland State University (PSU) scientists will be able to better tackle, thanks to the new high-performance computer—named “Gaia” after the Greek Earth goddess—that is coming to PSU this fall. Gaia will offer 20 “teraflops” of computational power (20 million million calculations per second) and 120 terabytes of storage during computations. It will be 10 times more powerful than all the previously available computing power on campus. 
The Gaia cluster will be based in PSU’s Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science.  A $350,000 grant from the Murdock Charitable Trust funded Gaia, with additional support from the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science (MCECS), the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, and PSU’s office of Research and Strategic Partnerships. 
“This is an absolutely enormous advance for those of us at PSU that are interested in taking on the computationally difficult research questions related to climate, air pollution, and energy efficient transportation systems” said Dr. James F. Pankow, professor with a joint appoint in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in MCECS and in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a Fellow in PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions.   
Pankow is the only fully active university faculty member in the state of Oregon holding membership in the prestigious National Academy of Engineering. His groundbreaking research relies heavily on advanced modeling to reveal significant factors related to air pollution and climate change, including the behavior of tiny “haze” particles that permeate the earth’s atmosphere, the complex chemistry of urban smog formation, and how toxic compounds such as PCBs, pesticides, and dioxins become dispersed around the globe.
“This investment in PSU by the Murdock Charitable Trust can trigger a whole cascade of scientific advances, helping to move PSU into the upper ranks of universities engaged in critically-important environmental research,” said Jonathan Fink, vice president for Research and Strategic Partnerships at PSU.  
The new equipment will be installed in two phases, the first by the end of December 2013, and the second by early 2015. Gaia is projected to be operational by the end of this year.
Gaia will be used for computationally demanding modeling by faculty in many departments at PSU, and will greatly enhance the overall research endeavors that are funded at Portland State by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Geological Survey the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Electric Power Research Institute, Portland General Electric, the Cooley Family Fund for Critical Research of the Oregon Community Foundation, the Huff Family Foundation, and numerous other important agencies, organizations, and foundations. 
About the Maseeh College of Engineer and Computer Science at PSU
The Fariborz Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science evolved in parallel with the growth of the high-tech industry in Oregon. More than 2,200 students are currently enrolled in programs that lead to undergraduate and graduate degrees in disciplines such as Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Engineering and Technology Management; Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and Computer Science.  (
About Institute for Sustainable Solutions at PSU
The Institute for Sustainable Solutions (ISS) advances sustainability research, education, and outreach at Portland State, leading the University to be a powerful catalyst and model for a more equitable, ecologically balanced, and economically vibrant future. (
About Portland State University (PSU)
Located in Portland, Oregon, PSU has about 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students. PSU’s motto is “Let Knowledge Serve the City,” and we provide every student with opportunities to work with businesses, schools and organizations on real-world projects. Our downtown campus exhibits PSU’s commitment to sustainability, and sustainability is incorporated into much of the curriculum. (