Pitt-Bradford students have been learning Aristotle’s adage that “the
whole is greater than the sum of its parts” with a super computing project.
Working with Robert Ellison, systems
architect and adjunct professor, students in the Computer Information Systemsand Technology program, created a small supercomputer capable of calculating pi
30 times faster than a desktop computer.
A super computer is a network of
hundreds of computers performing part of a task simultaneously and then
reporting back their results to the “head computer.” In this case, small, cheap
computers called Raspberry Pis were used.
On the market for less than a year, Raspberry
Pi is a $35 computer designed by a nonprofit to make technology available to
younger, poorer students. The entire computer is about the size of a deck of
cards and can be connected to a television screen for use as a monitor. An SD
card like those used in digital cameras serves as its hard drive.
For college students, the
affordability of Raspberry Pi provides more opportunities to network computers
together, write computer code and practice solving real-life problems.
Ellison saw such an opportunity after reading
an article about the University of Southampton using 64 Raspberry Pis networked
together to create a supercomputer. He and Don Lewicki, associate professor of business
management and director of the CIST program, decided a smaller version would
benefit Pitt-Bradford students.
Senior Wes Milliron, a senior CIST
major from Julian, jumped on board along with several other CIST majors: Jordan
Reed of Genesee, Dan Comes of Cyclone, Tyler Morris of Bradford and James
Rosenblatt of Wexford.
the computer took place outside of classes or clubs – just a bunch of computing
lovers working on a project with Ellison there to lend a guiding hand.
Like any project, the devil was in
the details. After purchasing 32 Raspberry Pis and making enough cable to wire
them together, students had to figure out how to house and connect them so that
they would communicate correctly with each other.
The next challenge was installing
basic software. First it was loaded onto one computer. Students customized the
software and then wrote programs to copy the customized software onto all 32
Milliron did much of the programming
using a programming language he was teaching himself called Perl. Having a real
project to work on made learning Perl much easier, he said.
After the machine was booted up for
the first time, the team discovered more software was needed, and the process
That kind of real-life problem
solving is invaluable for students as they head out into the workforce.
“This is an eye-opening resume
entry,” Lewicki said of working on the Raspberry Pi project.
Milliron agreed. By February of this
year, he had secured a post-graduation job with the information technology
consultant Nexstara in Mars. He said that his work on the supercomputer “was a
big selling point” and that it set him apart from other candidates.
The computer should now continue to
benefit students and faculty across disciplines who may be interested in using it
for their own research.
Ellison has begun researching
fractals, which are used to create models of things from the natural world such
The computer can examine thousands
of records for molecules, DNA, demographics or whatever a faculty member or
student might dream up. That person could then work with students and faculty
from the CIST program to write the program that would calculate the solution.
Because the Raspberry Pis are so small, the whole computer is about the size of
a filing cabinet and is portable.
Lewicki has an even bigger project
in mind. With a computer lab scheduled to have its computers replaced this
summer, he’s looking for the right student to create a super computer out of
the 24 being replaced.
Milliron, however, is already busy.
For more information on the
Raspberry Pi project or CIST program at Pitt-Bradford, contact Lewicki at
(814)362-0988 or firstname.lastname@example.org.