U.S. Dept. of Energy adviser speaks at WSU about supercomputing

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) name is misleading, said Dimitri Kusnezov, U.S. Department of Energy chief scientist, while speaking in the CUB Junior Ballroom on Wednesday.

Energy is a small part of the work the department is involved with and most of the employees’ projects and actions are not known by the general public, Kusnezov said.

Kusnezov discussed supercomputers’ roles in biomedical research and policy, and said that exascale computing, computing systems capable of a billion-billion calculations a second, have many significant applications in research and health policy.

“We’ve been the pioneer in computing,” he said. “The Human Genome was a DOE project… the cost to sequence is now a million times cheaper.”

With 17 national labs located across the country, the department has a large infrastructure, Kusnezov said.

“We gave Tesla their first big loan,” he said. “We invest in innovative ideas|… We are the biggest funders of physical sciences in the U.S.”

The way the academic world is structured, with a focus on tenure process and publication in certain journals, it is not as conducive to cross-disciplinary research as it could be, Kusnezov said.

“The things we worry about are typically multidisciplinary,” Kusnezov said. “That’s why we have our labs, because we recognize it takes an enterprise of people who you can bring to focus on a certain problem for however long as you need.”

Kusnezov said part of the department’s problem is that they’re not organized in the academic world.

“It’s hard,” he said. “People have to fight that environment and actively want to be in that space.”

Although the academic world has made great strides to encourage collaboration and is drastically different from the way it was 10 years ago, there is still progress to be made, Kusnezov said.

In the last few years, Kusenezov said that there has been more cross-disciplinary activity.

“It’s slowly happening,” he said. “The universities that are aggressive in that space are still viewed as experiments.”

He said that this generation is much more sensitive to broader issues, so there’s more of a sense of collectively trying to do good in the world.

Kusnezov works in advancing supercomputing technology to support initiatives in accelerating cancer research, individualizing health care based on genes, and revolutionizing the understanding of the human brain, according to the WSU lecture’s information page.

The lecture was the first in the WSU Vice President’s Distinguished Lecture Series for this school year. The series invites experts to speak on research addressing societal challenges and WSU’s Grand Challenge research priorities, which are sustaining health, sustainable resources, opportunity and equity, and national security, according to the lecture series website.

Anne Harrington, Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, will speak for the next lecture on Oct. 17.