No annual report


Proposal ID 2015-031
Submitted January 16, 2015
Owner dhorkel
Department Physics
Category Computer Labs
Funding Status Not Funded
Metric Score 3.14


  • Name
  • Title
  • Email
  • Phone
  • Mailbox
  • Derek Horkel
  • Graduate Student
  • 203-451-1641
  • 351560
  • Name
  • Title
  • Email
  • Phone
  • Mailbox
  • Jennifer Raines
  • Physics Dept. Division Administrator
  • 206-616-9652
  • 351560
  • Name
  • Title
  • Email
  • Phone
  • Mailbox
  • Ron Kline
  • Director of Computing, Dean's Office
  • 206-543-6366
  • 353765



We wish to modernize the computer resources in the physics department to better meet the needs of students and replace aging and failing hardware. We plan to purchase 50 workstation computers and monitors and 30 monitor adaptors so that students can use their own personal laptops.

Category Justification

This proposal is not for a traditional computer lab, but for computers and computer adaptors that are dispersed to students throughout the department. Although it will not be their primary use, the computer will also be available remotely.


Access to high performance computer resources has played a central role in student research and learning in the UW Physics department. Over the past decade, computers have been used by students in the department for running large scale simulations, mathematical modeling and analyzing data in collaboration with experiments worldwide. In the past few years the use of computers in analytic work, which used to be done with pencil and paper, has expanded as well. Students doing higher level coursework or theory research regularly use their computers to run software to do analytic computing.

The computers which are in use were funded by previous STF grand, ID: 2008-084-1. These computers are connected to a central file server run by the Physics and Astronomy Computer Services (PACS) team. Students are able to log on to their account from any of these machines, either at a desktop or remotely. These computers have become a central part of physics graduate student's work, with 68% using them, and 52% using them every day. Unfortunately, these computers, which are now almost 7 years old, are beginning to fail and we are quickly approaching the point where not all students who want to use a workstation computer will have access to one. The computers that have not yet failed are also becoming increasingly outdated, preventing students who would like to use the computer for research from doing so. 38% of physics graduate students have reported that they would use their workstation computer for computation work if they were more powerful, or up to date. For these reasons we are requesting funds to purchase new workstation computers.

Since 2008 the landscape of how students use their computers has changed. Some students who are working are large scale computing projects use a computer simply as a terminal and do all of their computational work remotely on a supercomputing cluster such as Hyak. Polling has shown that 36% of current physics graduate students would prefer a computer adaptor with accessories, such as a mouse and keyboard, to a workstation computer. For this reason, we are also requesting funds to purchase adaptors to accommodate students who do not need a powerful workstation computer and would rather use their personal computer as their central terminal. This would have the added benefit of being a cheaper alternative to providing and maintaining workstation computers for all physics graduate students.

Benefits to Students and the University

Access to computational tools in research is more important than ever for physics graduate students. Physics students need powerful modern computers that are flexible enough to run software which can analytically solve large systems of equations, run and visualize simulations, and analyze data from experiments conducted both at UW and as part of international collaborations, such as the Large Hadron Collider.

Unfortunately, the 7-year-old computers graduate students have been using are no longer up to their required tasks. The current computers are either too slow or are started to completely fail with no replacement computers available. In order for many physics graduate students to continue doing research, new workstation computers are needed.

We also want to help students who wish to keep all of their work centralized on their personal computer, or who do all of their research remotely on supercomputing clusters. Providing adaptors allows a student's office to be a conducive working environment for learning, or doing research. They have the added benefit of reducing the need for workstation computers, decreasing the number of computers which will need to be replaced again in the future and freeing up the PACS team to help with support rather than hardware maintenance.

Departmental Endorsements

The complexity of the calculations performed by students, mostly on various computer clusters and supercomputers, require the analysis of an enormous amount of data, which is typically performed locally. Such local analysis requires both high end desktops, with large amounts of RAM (optimally 8-16 GB and higher), and significant amount of surface area on monitors to display results of visualizations and also link often to several other computers remotely. At this time graduate students use their own laptops, to which occasionally they are able to attach a small old additional monitor of relatively low resolution, which is totally unacceptable for today's needs. Ideally students should have the ability of use a desktop with enough computer power and with one or better two large monitors. Apple iMac 27"" with 16GB of RAM and quad intel cores cores would be ideal for my two graduate students.

Aurel Bulgac

I strongly support the initiative to update desktop computers and laptop adapters for all grad students.
Computational infrastructure is now essential to progress throughout the natural sciences.

J. Rehr

I strongly support this proposal to modernize the computers and monitors available to physics graduate students. It is essential for
students to have reliable access to computers both for classwork and for
research. As things stand, without the replacements requested in this proposal, an increasing number of students will not have access to the needed computational resources. Thus, to my mind, such replacements are

Concerning classwork,
the advent of excellent computer mathematics programs such as
Mathematica and MatLab allows instructors to ask students to do more complicated calculations that are more relevant to cutting-edge research. This improves the preparation of students for research.

Concerning research, a significant fraction of both theoretical and experimental research involves computers---either for doing analytic
calculations with Mathematica, etc., or for doing simulations of many types. Many of these calculations push or exceed the limits of the current computers.

Stephen Sharpe

Installation Timeline

Once the workstation computers have arrived it should be up and running within 2-3 months, depending on PACS and schedules and availability. Once the adaptors have arrived, we will begin taking requests to lend them out to students, planning to disperse them within a week.

Resources Provided by Department

Installation and maintenance of the workstation computers will be done by the PACS team, which supports to department's computer network. The PACS team fully endorses this proposal (see attached letter from PACS Manager, Wilson Waldrop). Loans of the adaptors will be managed by PACS.

The Physics Graduate Student Council (PGSC) has a Computer representative (currently Derek Horkel) who acts as acts as liaison between Physics graduate students and department staff and administrators, including PACS. One responsibility of this representative is ensuring that computing resources, including the proposed workstations, adaptors and computer accessories, are accessible to all physics graduate students and working out new uses for resources as needs arise.

Access Restrictions (if any)

The workstation computers will be located in physics graduate student offices. These offices are locked when unoccupied. While physical access is restricted, any student with a physics or astronomy account can remotely log in to one or multiple workstation computers. The computers can do computational research or assignments, which may be too intensive for their personal computer or public computer they are using to access the network.

Adaptors will be held by the Physics and Astronomy Computer Services (PACS) team will be available for students to use while in the department.

Student Endorsements

In the recent years, in our department there has been an increase in the need for computational power. Indeed, mathematical software like Mathematica or Maple, or programming languages like c++ and FORTRAN are of wide spread and becoming 'the bread and butter' of everyday work. However, the current workstations are more than 7 years old and can not keep up with the demands of the software we use. Many of the students use their own laptops to overcome this difficulty. Thus, new workstations have become a necessity, especially if the quality of the work produced is to be maintained or increased!

Ermal Rrapaj

Physics graduate students run a variety of computationally intensive software on their workstations requiring up to date hardware and processing power. I personally have run simulations requiring a full workday on the machines in the Physics building, but a mere half hour on a modern but not especially fancy machine at home. The disruption to my workflow is quite severe, as I need to feed what I learn from the simulations into the experiments I do. Other graduate students I know have trouble running their matlab or mathematica code in reasonable times, and their computers at times even take a long time to open PDFs or certain software. I also support the acquisition of monitor adapters, as I would find my work easier to keep track of if I could consolidate it to one computer but still use a monitor of a reasonable size.

Tomasz Sakrejda

I am a fourth year graduate student in the Physics department and am writing to ask for the approval of the proposal to modernize the computing work stations in the Physics department. My research involves both large and small scale numerical simulations. I use both my personal laptop and the desktop at my student desk on a daily basis for research purposes. My current desktop is failing and I have increasingly had to rely solely on my own laptop which has sometimes slowed the pace of my research. If the proposal is accepted I would use both the laptop adaptors and the new desktop computers.

Alison Duffy

During my first year as a graduate student in the physics department, I used the computers provided by the student tech fee daily. However, they have been getting old and don't work as well as they used to. The computers are slow and freeze often and some don't even work. These computers have been great to have, but new ones are desperately needed.

Alex Ditter


Group Funded Item Unit price Quantity Subtotal

Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter

$6.36 15 $95.40

Short cable adaptor with a male Mini DisplayPort end and female DVI end.


All of our current monitors accept DVI connections. A recent poll of physics graduate students showed that many students have a Mini DisplayPort or Thunderbolt port, both of which are compatible with this adaptor. This many adaptors will be enough for all students whose computers are compatible with them, along with a few more to account for changes in the types of computers students have.

HDMI Male to DVI-D Single Link Female Adapter

$2.26 15 $33.90

Short adaptor with a male HDMI end and female DVI end.


All of our current monitors accept DVI connections. A recent poll of physics graduate students showed that many students have an HDMI port, which is compatible with this adaptor. This many adaptors will be enough for all students whose computers are compatible with them, along with a few more to account for changes in the types of computers students have.

Dell 9020 Mini Tower Workstation Computer

$1,195.00 50 $59,750.00

8 GB Memory, i7 Quad Core 3.6 Gz Processor, 500 GB Hard drive, nVidia GeForce graphics card. Including 24" monitor, 3 year Dell hardware support services.


This model of computer is up to modern performance standards and will allow software needed for most research to be used for the foreseeable future. The same model of computer was recently purchased for faculty in the department so it will be easy for to incorporate within the network.

Estimateed shipping cost for adaptors

$8.98 1 $8.98

Estimated from cheapest provider we could locate


Sales Tax

$5,689.39 1 $5,689.39

Using Seattle's 9.5% sales tax


Total requested: $65,577.67

Total funded: $0.00


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