Ryerson bulks up supercomputing capabilities

TORONTO — A multi-million dollar contribution to engineering and computing facilities at Ryerson University announced Thursday will help make more room for a high performance computing lab and aid student researchers on projects such as one that could help doctors better diagnose their patients.

A $5-million donation made by the Honourable George W. and Helen Vari will allow the post-secondary institution to create space in existing buildings, increase facilities and enrollment and offer students state of the art lab research facilities. Donors, which also include the Government of Ontario and Sears Canada, were honoured Thursday at the official unveiling of Ryerson’s new computing and engineering centre. The donation is aimed at the university’s recently built high-tech engineering and computing centre and is named after Vari in honour of their gift. Vari, a civil engineer who founded Vari Construction after immigrating to Canada from Hungary in 1959, is a Member of the Order of Canada and the Queen’s Privy Council of Canada.

Having all programs in one building makes it “much easier to get together as opposed to going to the other side of campus,” said Dr. Alireza Sadeghian, chair and associate professor, department of computer science, Ryerson University.

Opened in September 2004, the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre, designed by Toronto-based Moriyama & Teshima Architects, adds an additional 225,000 square feet to existing buildings that house 4,102 undergraduate and 471 graduate students in engineering, computer science and architecture and science programs. The building is part of a campus-wide $210 million expansion that includes six new buildings that, once completed, will nearly double the university’s current facilities.

The combining of disciplines like engineering, computers and science is making it increasingly difficult to tell what a student is studying these days.

“There’s no such thing as a separate entity,” said Gerald Bootes, a Ryerson University bachelor of engineering graduate who is now the technical officer for the university’s department of aerospace engineering. “The fact that all the labs are housed in one place helps for multi-disciplinary projects.”

Projects like computer science grad student Hossein Rahnama’s, for example, illustrate how programs like computer science are merging with other disciplines like medicine. Rhanama is currently working on the development of an intelligent medical diagnosis system using Maclab engineering software for his thesis. The application, written in Java and designed to run on the Microsoft Windows operating system platform, uses fuzzy logic to create rule bases that help physicians diagnose patients and an artificial neural network that gives it learning capabilities.

Rahnama and other comp sci grad students are also involved in a global competition called SIMagine 2006 to develop wireless applications using SIM cards based on Java technology. For the contest, Ryerson students have developed a prototype of an application that cuts down roaming charges for cell phone users by automatically routing the call to the local network.

“The future of mobile systems is on an ad hoc network,” said Rahnama, adding the application can be directly installed on the SIM card.

The 350 original participants have been narrowed down to 25, including Ryerson. That number will shrink to 10 after January 5, 2006 when all teams are required to submit their proposals. The top 10 finalists will be rewarded with $15,000 Euros each and present their project at 3 GSM World Congress 2006 in Barcelona, Spain.

The building will also eventually house the High Performance Computing Virtual Laboratory (HPCVL), which was formed by a group of four Ontario universities: Queen’s University, Carleton University, The Royal Military College of Canada and the University of Ottawa and now also includes Ryerson University and University of Toronto. The HPCVL site at Ryerson, which has three Sun Microsystems SunFire 4800 servers totaling $850,000, is currently located in another engineering building on campus and will likely move to the Centre in the next six months. HPCVL provides institutions and researchers with a high performance computing environment to conduct research in a variety of fields including science, engineering, medicine and social science.

The Centre also houses the Ryerson Institute for Aerospace Design and Innovation (RIADI), which is used by students in aerospace engineering and other science and engineering-related programs to obtain hands-on experience in a project based learning environment.

“It’s a local resource so student’s don’t have to be out at industry sites,” said Bootes. “The idea is to have undergrads get exposure to real-world problems.”

Other research facilities located at the Centre include the Civil Engineering Structures Laboratory as well as research projects such as those that examine multimedia and computer visualization.

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