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Georgia Southern computer science professor attends Colorado “Hack-a-thon”

Georgia Southern University’s Robert Cook recently spent time on a Sony Playstation 3, but it wasn’t to play games.

Instead, Cook, Yamacraw professor of computer science in the University’s College of Information Technology, worked with top researchers at the first-ever ‘hack-a-thon” sponsored by Colorado-based Terra Soft Solutions, a leader in the use of the Linux computer operating system. Cook was the only computer science faculty member in attendance from the U.S.

‘Most people do not realize the advanced capabilities of the processor used in a Playstation 3,” said Cook. ‘It uses IBM Cell technology, which is a computer chip with nine processors. A normal PC has one processor. For a computer programmer, a Playstation 3 is like having a personal supercomputer.”

The Cell or Cell Broadband Engine Architecture is a microprocessor architecture jointly developed by a Sony, Toshiba and IBM alliance known as STI. Sony’s Playstation 3 is the first major commercial application using this new technology.

Cook said there are innumerable scientific and engineering breakthroughs that can be accomplished with the increased computational speed of Cell processors.

‘The next generation of supercomputers will be Cell computers linked together,” said Cook. ‘They will be able to perform billions of billions of instructions per second. It has profound implications, especially in the area of bioinformatics.”

As an example, Cook said scientists studying DNA and RNA proteins could study and manipulate individual proteins by comparing them through computerized databases.

‘Proteins are the individual building blocks of life,” Cook said. ‘Computerized databases can be created to store proteins from every living thing. When a researcher needs to identify where a protein came from, it takes time to compare samples. Cell-powered supercomputers will speed the process.”

In addition to studying complex proteins and molecules, Cook said advanced computer technology could aid researchers to better predict changes in the Earth’s climate and ecosystem; develop more fuel-efficient, less polluting cars; or understand the origin, spread or mitigation of infectious diseases.

Cook said the challenge is to create the software that can take advantage of the Cell technology. The ‘hack-a-thon” at Terra Soft Solutions’ headquarters in Loveland, Col., was the start in how to address this challenge.

‘It was an exciting atmosphere at the hack-a-thon,” Cook stated. ‘There was a maelstrom of intellectual give-and-take that resulted in a rare free-flow of ideas. Software vendors were modifying product specifications on-the-fly based upon feedback from us, the attendees. Becoming coding buddies with total strangers was a great experience.”

For more information, contact Cook at 912-681-0892 or e-mailĀ bobcook@georgiasouthern.edu.

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