Freshman Takes Top Honors in High-Tech Competition
Monday, April 30th, 2012
Computers have become an intricate part of daily lives; but for West Virginia Wesleyan College freshman engineering major and Bridgeport resident Colby Stanley, the use and knowledge of high-performance computers garnered him a first place finish in the West Virginia Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (ESPCoR) High Performance Computer Training Support Program’s student competition.
The use of high-performing computing resources is relatively new at Wesleyan; however, Dr. Trevor Stevens, research assistant professor, who assisted Stanley with the project, thinks the College is off to a “good start.”
High-performance computing involves the use of a “super computer” or cluster of computers designed to complete calculations not feasible on a personal computer in order to solve a problem. Stanley’s research involved the use of data from pulsars – stars that emit electromagnetic radiation, which is similar to the workings of a light house. The timing data can be used to determine whether a planet is in existence around the pulsar and affecting the rate at which it spins.
Stanley ran the timing data through a program that performs Wavelet Analysis, enabling the frequencies caused by planets to become more visible with the data while removing some of the noise. He then grouped the data using a program called Gnuplot, and by looking at the graph, it could be suggested that a planet is in existence around the pulsar.
“The super computer we used gave me the ability to look at a much larger range of frequencies with a much smaller step size between frequencies than a regular computer,” Stanley said.
His research competed against all undergraduates from various colleges and universities, and, as a freshman, Stanley said he was “surprised” and “excited” about the first place finish.
Stanley explained he entered the competition after Dr. Bert Popson, chair of the Physics Department, told him his prior internship experiences with NASA in Fairmont would be put to use.
“I thought it would be interesting to learn about and use high-performance computing, and I am glad Dr. Popson recommended the competition to Dr. Stevens and me.”
Stevens says he and other faculty members are looking forward to introducing more high-performance resources and instruction for students interested in computational physics.
“We are honored to be able to find real success for one of our students as we are just beginning to explore this area of research,” Stevens commented. “I think Colby has tremendous potential for future research. I hope and believe that this will give him a great deal of encouragement to be confident in his own abilities and potential. I hope it could also do the same for other students in our department who will see and be inspired by Colby’s example.”