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Jordan Receives $1.6 Million Stimulus Grant

USC College’s Thomas Jordan was awarded a federal stimulus grant to continue developing the PetaShake Project, a computational research platform designed to support earthquake simulations. Photo credit Taylor Foust.
USC College’s Thomas Jordan was awarded a federal stimulus grant to continue developing the PetaShake Project, a computational research platform designed to support earthquake simulations. Photo credit Taylor Foust.

Thomas Jordan, University Professor and holder of the W.M. Keck Foundation Chair in Geological Sciences, was awarded a $1.6 million federal stimulus grant to continue developing the PetaShake Project -- an advanced computational research platform designed to support high-resolution earthquake simulations on a regional scale.

The grant will enable the Southern California Earthquake Center housed in USC College to continue the project for the next two years.

“Right now, we don’t have the computational capacity to do some of the calculating needed to fully understand earthquakes,” said Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center. “So, we’ve been pushing the limits of computers and supercomputers to do more ambitious calculations to better understand earthquakes.

“With PetaShake, we’ve begun to run complex simulations on hundreds of thousands of computer processors. It’s a new kind of seismic hazardous map and type of calibration. We’ve never before been able to do this.”

Southern California, the natural laboratory for the project, comprises 23 million people and about half the national earthquake risk. The center coordinates a comprehensive program of earthquake system science involving over 600 scientists at more than 60 research institutions, and it incorporates basic research into products for reducing seismic risk.

PetaShake cyberinfrastructure and simulations eventually may be used in earthquake engineering and disaster management. For example, the simulations may become the basis for the Great Southern California ShakeOut, the largest disaster response exercise in United States history. As a result of ShakeOut, Southern California may learn from simulations what other regions, such as Sichuan, China, have tragically had to learn from real earthquakes.

The project will promote the vertical integration of cyberinfrastructure in parallel with hardware development, thus supporting the National Science Foundation’s plans to achieve petascale computing by 2011. (In computing, petascale refers to a computer system capable of reaching performance greater than one petaflop, or one quadrillion floating point operations per second.)

A diverse set of undergraduate and graduate students will participate in the project, enhancing the career trajectories of women and minorities in high-performance computing.