Behind the mid-century modern stone façade of a former automobile showroom, The University of New Mexico Center for Advanced Research Computing (CARC) houses 21st century state-of-the-art computing facilities, along with the staff and expertise to help UNM researchers use it effectively.
Remnants of the old Galles Motor Company still exist, including the Cadillac and Oldsmobile logos in relief on the stone façade facing historic Route 66 and a vintage New Mexico map painted on the far wall of the cavernous former showroom. But in the back of the building, where vehicles were once repaired, there hums a bank of powerful computers with major processing power, massive memory, and storage capacity that helps drive amazing, often groundbreaking research projects.
“CARC leads everything for UNM’s overall mission related to large-scale computing,” said CARC director Patrick Bridges, a professor with the UNM Computer Science Department. “That includes providing supercomputers and big data systems that UNM researchers use for an incredibly diverse range of research, and education and support in how to use these kinds of systems well. We also conduct research on how to make large-scale computing systems faster, more efficient, easier to use, and just generally better overall.”
UNM students, faculty, and staff use CARC systems for leading research on a wide range of projects in areas such as space exploration, wind and solar power, deadly viruses, wildfires, wildlife, and delving into the core of the Earth or deep into the human brain. With CARC to provide the computer power they need, the UNM research community has helped land the Perseverance Rover on Mars, study COVID-19 samples to better understand how the virus is spreading, seek treatments for cancer and HIV, meet the challenges of climate change, save endangered wildlife and woodlands, advance alternative energy sources, and create hundreds of other projects to improve and enrich the lives of every New Mexico resident, the nation, and the world.
Many campus community members misunderstand or don’t know of CARC’s existence or, if they do, might think it’s not something they could ever use.
“Many of the people who know CARC exists seem to think we’re either part of IT, or if they know we do supercomputers think that we only support a select set of specialists and probably not relevant to their degree, research, or education,” Bridges observed. “Today the need for high-performance and data-intensive computing is everywhere, ranging from science and engineering to the social sciences and education to the arts."
"CARC leads everything for UNM’s overall mission related to large-scale computing.”
Patrick Bridges, CARC director
CARC resources are available to UNM students, faculty, and staff who can’t do the research they need to do on a laptop or PC.
“Any time they’re doing computing for their research or class that takes more time or memory or space than they can conveniently get on ‘regular’ computing systems, we’re happy to help, or if they simply don’t know how to address a problem involving large amounts of data or computing,” Bridges noted.
Getting access to big computing resources isn’t necessarily that hard, he added. But using them well to get things done is.
“CARC staff probably spend most of their time helping people effectively use big computers to support their research and education, no matter their level or background or degree program or experience.”
“We may not always know the answer to the user’s questions, but in addition to our own expertise, we maintain close ties to computing experts around the country. Several of our staff are National Science Foundation XSEDE Campus Champions with whom we can work to help figure out to help members of the UNM community solve their challenging research computing problems.”
CARC is partially open and offering both in-person and virtual office hours. The Introduction to Computing at CARC workshops will not be held in-person in Fall 2021, but users can access a series of videos to get started using CARC systems. User support can be requested through the CARC help desk system, and CARC provides a number of QuickBytes tutorials online to assist users with common issues.
The variety of research CARC supports is impressive.
“One of my favorite parts of CARC is reviewing new project requests that come in, simply because researchers at UNM are doing so many amazing things. We are of course very proud to support the UNM Health Science Center’s work sequencing COVID variants, but I think the work UNM researchers did to help plan the Mars landing using CARC systems was one of the ones I got very excited about, since I’ve always been a space travel aficionado,” Bridges enthused.
The expansive CARC building also houses the Social Media Workgroup led by Professor Andrea Polli that “uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics to guide student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking.” Professor Fernando Moreu’s Smart Management of Infrastructure Laboratory (SMILab) is also headquartered there and both groups can often be seen working on various projects in the capacious front lobby.
In today’s world, serious research requires serious computing and CARC is serious about leading the way.
“We’re here to help every member of the UNM community with their advanced computing needs, no matter their experience or background, and the more unique and novel the better,” Bridges concluded.