In the Company of Supercomputer

By Syeda Qudsia

We’d just opened the door and before I could take in the cool blues and grays, my visual circuitry had come face to face with it. Well, let me remember the last time I felt this fascinated… Ahhh, well, my processor would go into an infinite loop before I can get the answer to that – Welcome to the Supercomputing Research and Education Center (ScREC), RCMS.

Resting in its glass cubicle. Credits: Syeda Qudsia

Its intimidation at first sight – Oh yeah, that is Pakistan’s fastest supercomputer installed in any institute till date. Okay, so it is mathematically big (specially for Pakistan :P): 32 Nvidia computing processors, with each processor having 960 processor cores (that makes a total of 30,720 processors). Add to this 32 Dual Quad Core Computer Nodes (8*32 = 256 processor cores), raising the total to 30,976 processor cores. And now count in the 2 Head Nodes with 16 processor cores, and you make up a giant of about 30,992 processor cores in all, which can perform 132 trillion operations in 1 second (132 teraflops/sec). This is the quickest collection of CPUs and GPUs in the country, with an internal communication speed of 40 gigabytes per second.

Distribution of 92 users, from NUST and from around.

The supercomputer can be accessed from anywhere in the world, as long as you have an internet connection and an account registered with the System Administrator. It works all the time, without a break, so there are no time limitations for its users. Despite all this, there are only 92 users currently using the machine, utilizing installed softwares, some of which are:

  1. NAMD, a molecular dynamics program, designed for bio-molecular and material studies;
  2. CAST3M, based on the finite element method, a code written for numerical problems in structural mechanics;
  3. WIEN2K, LAPW, and GIBBS2, softwares for simulations in solid state chemistry and computational material sciences;
  4. PVFS2, for use in large scale cluster computing, is a parallel virtual system for distribution of files across multiple servers;
  5. MATLAB, a tool for numerical computation, visualization, and programming.

The supercomputer, with its cooling system… Aaaaaand you cannot wear shoes in there :P Credits: Syeda Qudsia

Honestly speaking, the towering structure is nothing. It’s just a pair of big black cabinets that go on consuming electricity, supplied with 24/7 cooling system, comfortably resting in its big glass shell. And what it does? It hums. For the most part, that is. This is a huge facility and it needs to be used – that’s what it’s there for. Its specifications make it faster but its users make it big.

Special thanks to Muhammad Usman, System Administrator, RCMS.

The author is a member of Team NUST Science Blog and a senior at Atta-ur-Rahman School of Applied Biosciences.  

Small Talk: Shell Eco Marathon, 2012

Bolt!

A Shell sponsored event, Shell Eco Marathon is all about designing a better, fuel-efficient car. The competition is aimed at students and is held worldwide. Students from PNEC participated in the Urban Concept and Prototype categories of the event. NUST Science Blog caught up with Raffay Bin Hussnain Hashmi, Manager Team Ballista to know more about his experience.

NUST Science Blog: Tell us a bit about Shell Eco Marathon?

Raffay Bin Hussnain: Shell Eco Marathon challenges student teams from around the world to design, build, and test ultra-energy-efficient vehicles. With annual events first in the Americas, then Europe and Asia, the winners are teams that go furthest using least amount of energy. The events spark debate about the future of mobility and inspire young engineers to push boundaries of fuel efficiency.

NSB: What are the requirements of Shell that the vehicles need to fulfill?

RBH: Well, teams are provided with a set of rules and regulations and they have to work within some constraints, but the basic motive of this event is to increase fuel efficiency of vehicle for better mobility. Shell provides a platform to all young engineers to think and innovate, and put ideas to reality.

NSB: What new concepts did you introduce in your vehicles for the event to make them better suited?

RBH: We actually started our work before the discovery of Agha Waqar; otherwise we could have changed the laws of energy ;-) lol.

Since we lacked technical facilities within our resources, but we managed to introduce some new concepts that include honey comb chassis, glass fiber body, modified engine, weight and drag reduction, driver’s comfort and safety.

NSB: Can you please tell us more about the aerodynamic design of the cars?

RBH: Well, in case of Ballista, the basic concept of prototype car was futuristic design with ultra-fuel efficiency. Aerodynamic shape of body plays an important role to reduce drag reduction and consequently increases mileage of vehicle. Within the dimensions provided in the rule book, prototype car design was to have minimum drag losses. In case of Bolt, which doesn’t allow too much liberty in designing the body, but within the dimensions, best aerodynamic design was made to increase fuel efficiency of the car.

NSB: What’s the importance of glass fiber body?

RBH: Honestly telling you, why we used glass fiber body is just because of low budget, though it is light weight and equally pays off in increasing fuel efficiency. Carbon fiber is much better and light weight than fiber glass. Trust me, if companies could donate us earlier than the event, we would have definitely made a car with carbon fiber body.

NSB: What do you think is the most important feature of Bolt, and how well does it perform?

RBH: Apart from red-candy looking car, Bolt successfully recorded a mileage of 66 km in 1 liter. You might be laughing on how a car can move on road consuming mush less amount of fuel. But Bolt can do it. This is the most important feature of Bolt that got it a 10th place in the Event.

NSB: What efforts did you put in to make the cars environmentally friendly?

RBH: Hmm… Obviously, the basic motive of manufacturing these cars was to create awareness of go-green initiative. These eco-friendly vehicles were designed keeping in view the futuristic needs of fuel efficiency.

NSB: What challenges did you face in designing your cars?

RBH: Ahh, I am not allowed to write a long essay, otherwise I would have done that. Looking back a year, when everything was on paper, I could hardly imagine two cars running in front of me. Designing, manufacturing, sponsorship, marketing, logistics, and a lot more, from spending days and nights in labs, to presentations in companies; these were not easy things to do at this level where we could hardly find any money in our pockets. A dream to continue the legacy with no money wasn’t giving us a destined look. But, Allah ka naam lia and we started our work.

NSB: How was your experience of the event?

RBH: Entering the Sepang Circuit, seeing Pakistani flag rising with other countries’ flags; running vehicles on Sepang international track; eyes filled with tears on completing successful track run; holding our country’s flag in front of whole world… I mean, seriously, I don’t have words to describe that feeling. The experience we got is simply unexplainable. And, well, yeah, apart from learning experiences and lifetime achievements, we all had great fun over there. Party Scene!!!

NSB: How was the support from NUST community and administration?

RBH: Hmm, difficult question to answer on this forum but I would highlight some of the issues which certainly need to be addressed. Well, NUST community, and Specially, I would like to thank NUST Science Society for sharing our activities on website, blogs and Facebook.  We also got Second position in Communication award (as an off-track award). NSS played a vital role in our marketing and spreading awareness among students. But, when it comes to NUST administration, I certainly don’t have good remarks.

Several calls were made from PNEC to NUST for sponsoring team PNEC but the response was zero, and every time the answer was same that “No money would be given to EME or PNEC for SEM”. In 2011, we couldn’t participate in the event due to lack of funds to transport the vehicle. Just imagine the feelings: you build a car, prepare to compete in an international event to represent your country and you end up putting the car in scratch because you can’t participate.  This year, we again knocked doors of NUST, but the answer remained the same. We didn’t lose heart and spent our days and nights in finding sponsorships. We even had to go to a company daily to give our manufacturing report, and we did that. And, I can proudly say that we made the vehicles and participated in the event without single support from NUST. Toyota Indus motors, DHL Global Forwarding Pakistan, Telenor Djuice, HEC Stem Career Program, Shan Foods were the honor sponsors for both teams of PNEC.

I would like to mention the support from PNEC administration, as all manufacturing cost was provided by our own college. Even though we had difficulties in doing technical work inside our labs, we were allowed to move the vehicles outside college whenever needed.

- Pictures by Raffay Bin Hussnain Hashmi

Why a NUSTian, But an EMEnent?

- By Ehtisham Tanvir, College of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering

In the year 2012, National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) won its place in the top 100 universities in Asia, with a rank number 53 in the field of IT and Engineering throughout Asia. This along with its highly qualified faculty, bright students, spacious and highly equipped labs has made it a dream place for every student seeking a future in different engineering related  disciplines. NUST, with the collaboration of Pakistan Armed Forces, now has a total of six constituent colleges in Rawalpindi, Risalpur, and Karachi along with huge headquarters in Islamabad.

The recent spike in publicity of NUST headquarters highlighting its beautiful infrastructure and spacious campus has put its constituent colleges and their features totally in dark for the new applicants. Being the HQ, the applicants have everything to do with H-12 campus, which in turn makes them unaware of the charms that its constituent colleges hold. Even on NUST’s official website, all pictures displayed belong to NUST H-12 sector; owing to the physical beauty of H-12 campus. All these factors combined tend to make the constituent military colleges somewhat secondary in importance to candidates. In a nutshell, the applicants have truly fallen for the beauty of H-12 campus. There is a need of displaying these colleges’ true importance and of the role they play in making NUST a reputable institute of this country in front of new candidates, and they need to be guided with ground realities.

I, being a student of College of E&ME, find this a matter of great concern and in the upcoming paragraphs shall try to throw some light on the factors that really make College of E&ME a very good option for new applicants.

Credits: Ussama Bin Sajid @ Facebook

Strictness:

Whilst reading posts of prospective students on a Facebook page I have found that applicants have fear that EME has very strict discipline. This, to the very best of my knowledge, is true. But I am sure of one thing, that the discipline of EME College is one thing that makes it a different institution. Table manners, respect of your seniors, following a proper dress code, prohibition of gender mixing other than the classes, are some of the things that are taught hands in hands with technical studies in the College of E&ME. So, one should not be fearful of these restrictions but should accept them as something of one’s own benefit.

Hostels’ and College’s General Infrastructure:

Addressing the fear of not-so-good hostels and infrastructure, here are some sound arguments. Being an old college, the infrastructure of College of E&ME is not as attractive as that of NUST H-12 campus, but it fulfils all the requirements of both, teachers and students. Although workshops and labs are old, but have all the machinery that is required to carry out experiments and technical work needed throughout the four-year engineering course. As evidence, consider the fact that till year 2012, NUST H-12 students had to come to College of E&ME to carry out their workshop practice sessions. Hostels, being old, are not  in a very good condition and need renovation, but fulfill general requirements of living.

On-Campus Co-curricular and Extra Curricular Activities:

I have heard from some applicants that H-12 has better co-curricular and extra-curricular activity chances as compared to College of E&ME. Well, at EME, we have one-of-its-kind, multi-purpose hall that has decently equipped separate gymnasiums for both male and female students for carrying out basketball, badminton, table tennis, and volleyball matches. Besides, the college has other playing fields and facilities as well. The college also has fully functional societies like American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME EME Student Chapter), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers(IEEE EME Student Chapter),  NUST Volunteers Club (NVC EME Chapter), Society for promotion of Arts & Literature (SPAL), and Society of Adventure and Sports (SAS), which are totally organized and run by student committees.  Events, like EME Olympiad, NUST Thematic Festival (NTF), Computer Project Exhibition & Competition (COMPEC), National Engineering Robotics Competition (NERC), and on-campus workshops, not only educate the students but also train them to work as teams and increase their self-confidence.

Now I shall throw some light on some factors that really make EME College a place worth studying in:

EME Alumni:

EME college has, this year, passed out its 30th batch. This fact signifies a large alumni of EMEnents in the job market. It is a well known fact that though skills are necessary to get a job, but if skills are combined with an alumni member of your institute interviewing you for the job, then this minimizes your minor shortcomings and makes you a strong candidate. EME College’s graduates are now dispersed in every industry and famous engineering and product manufacturing firm throughout Pakistan and even abroad, and this really gives new graduates a strong back.

Departments and their Specialities:

EME College has a total of four departments at the BS level: Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechatronics Engineering, and Computer Engineering. Mechatronics department at EME is considered the best in Pakistan. National Engineering Robotics Competition is one-of-its-kind event held annually in EME College by Mechatronics department and attracts hundreds of engineering students from all over Pakistan. Plus, these Mechatronics engineers are highly skilled in control systems, programmed robots, and automated industry. Mechanical Engineering department is also considered one of the best Mechanical Engineering departments in Pakistan. Students of this department come up with highly innovative design projects each year, which are helping the industry. Also, participation of students of this department in competitions, like Shell Eco Marathon in Malaysia, and winning technical innovation awards and mileage awards, enhances their grip over technical knowledge. The department of Electrical and Computer engineering provide the job market with such technically and professionally trained engineers that, even in these fields which are suffering from saturation problems, they give a tough competition to engineers from other institutes.

Keeping all these factors in view, one can simply feel free to opt for College of E&ME and hope to have a bright future. It is truly said:

“All that glitters, is not gold”

Actuated Hand Exoskeleton

Actuated Hand Exoskeleton.
Credits: Muhammad Sami Siddiqui.

- By Muhammad Sami Siddiqui, BE Mechatronics ’12, College of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering

The term exoskeleton refers to an external wearable robot that is worn by the user to extend human muscle strength. The actuated hand exoskeleton project is a unique application of Mechatronics and Bio-Engineering. It aims to lend control to the hand of a human individual who is either unable to fully actuate hand’s movements or suffers from weakness in controlling the human body’s natural actuators, i.e. the muscles, pertaining to the hand. The exoskeleton is particularly designed to aid people undergoing post-traumatic rehabilitation therapy or suffer from anomalies of the motor nervous system like partial paralysis of the hand, wrist drop, stroke, accidents, etc.

One of the direct consequences of increase in expenses for medical care is that the stroke patients are receiving less therapy. Therefore, in the recent past, potentialities of robot-mediated therapy have been worked on not to replace the medical work but just to help it both to reinforce a more accurate and repeatable therapy and to quantitatively evaluate the outcome of the patient.

Actuated Hand Exoskeleton.
Credits: Muhammad Sami Siddiqui.

Our mechanical design of the exoskeleton is less complex and more appealing both aesthetically and functionality-wise. It is a light weight mechanism composed of hard plastic and Stainless Steel and is safer to use in most activities of daily life with comparatively little precautions. Its motor actuating design enables it to convey the power swiftly as compared to other models constructed using Mc-Kibben or Linear Actuators. Its simplicity of operation, adaptable nature and smart algorithms give it an edge over many artificial assistive organs being researched on and produced up till now. It has the provision of selecting the type of inputs to be provided from electromyography sensor. It is designed to be compact enough to fit all actuators, locking mechanism, and the physical exoskeleton structure on to one glove.

There are about 6,24,459 disabled people in Pakistan according to 1998 census; the figures could be a lot higher today. We are pioneers to start research in hand exoskeletons in Pakistan. This project is a direct application of supported actuation, a field that is now an active frontier for research internationally. The development of this project ensures the establishment of research and development and awareness of this particular field in Pakistan.

We once looked at these exoskeletons as being the future, except now it turns out that future is approaching much more rapidly than we had expected. Within the next 5 to 10 years, we would possibly see these exoskeletons out on the battlefield helping soldiers. Further down the road, we would also see robotic surgeons in operating rooms being controlled by surgeons in another room. But most likely, even sooner than both of those options, we will see these exoskeletons helping the disabled as well as people with degenerative diseases. The potential for this technology seems endless and the effects it will have on the human race will be monumental.

Making a Furnace Feeding Machine

Real Machine (Some Components Not Connected)

- By Faisal Masud, BE Mechanical ’12, College of Electrical & Mechanical Engineering 

- Pictures by Faisal Masud

It was always my goal to end my bachelor studies by doing something big and different. I had already taken 2 projects of level high enough to be called as final year projects. So, for the real final year project, I was both confident and charged up.

Instead of going for simulation study or small working concepts, I and my best friend, Saad Zulfiqar (with whom I have done almost every project and known him for a decade) hit upon the decision to do an industrial project. While I was on internships, I deeply monitored systems of the factory to see if there was any area which needed to be addressed. Apart from that, I had been inquiring known people in industry about their problems so I could offer them some help.

At last we had a list of problems compiled over which we could work. One of them was that of a local Aluminium production factory in feeding huge scrap material into the furnace. The factory had temporarily devised a solution to feed the blocks but it was a bit crude as well as damaging to the furnace. We were given the task of designing a unique and low-cost solution to replace the current system. Some solutions were available in the market but they were about 10 times more expensive than the furnace itself, and did not cater to all the requirements of the feeding process.

The Concept: Computer Model of the Machine

At first, we thought it wasn’t a difficult task. Quickly, I started making concept models on 3D modeling software “SolidWorks”, for which I had much expertise due to previous projects. It was all fun discussing and thinking how to receive the material, how to transfer it into the furnace and how to drop it. We had already been briefed on the constraints we had to take care of while designing any solution.

During the evolution process, our design changed its face about 5-6 times. Every time we would hit upon a solution to one problem, it got solved but another popped up. This is the beauty of Mechanical Engineering. You do not have to be looking at a single aspect. You need to consider cost, design criteria, manufacturability, and feasibility all at the same time. Leaving or sacrificing any of them will result in a design that will pose problems in future. It’s fun and challenging.

After nearly 3-4 months of constant brainstorming and tweaks, we prepared what was the best and cheapest solution to the problem. We took this to the factory personnel, explained, and got a green signal to carry it forward. The work so far included layout and qualitative design, that is, it consisted of mechanisms and the way material would be received, transported, and fed. It did not address the structural part of the problem. The blocks to be fed were 950 kilograms heavy, so calculations had to be done to design a structure capable of holding them safely.

The concept we designed consisted of a vehicle that could move laterally as well as longitudinally. Meaning it could move forward, backward, right, and left. Unlike a car which cannot move right or left without taking a curved path, our machine could instantaneously start moving right and left from wherever it was standing. It consisted of long beams over which material would ‘ride’ and then be dropped into the furnace wherein temperature would be above 200 degrees Celsius.

After we had designed the machine on computer and done basic calculations, we had to make the machine. Since the full-scale model required lots of funds which we could have got, we decided to first make a full-scale working prototype of 3:1 that could handle about 200-300 kilograms of material. The purpose of it was to find out the problems that would arise in manufacturing and working of machine in full-scale, so that they can be fixed before the actual thing is made. We gathered some funds on our own in a bid to start work as early as possible. The funding request would have taken too long to smoothly start fabrication.

Finally, the most critical and difficult phase begun: we started purchasing parts. This required us to travel extensively, negotiate to buy at reasonable price, walk in heat. The initial plan was to gather all the parts and fabricate those requiring little time and effort first, and then assemble them. After a grind of over 1 month, we had most of the parts ready. In the beginning, assembly looked like an easy task, but once we started off, it started to give us serious headache.

We did not hand over the tasks to any single person. In fact, we carried out all operations separately, under our own supervision, from different workers and in some cases, did the work ourselves. The final assembly started in the porch of my own house. Now the work hours on the project went from being 3-4 to about 8-9. Traveling increased. More effort was needed to handle things as now they were heavy (our final machine weight was 150 kilograms). Even a palm sized piece of machine weighed more than 1.5 kg. We were just two handling all this. Our work required excessive welding and mechanical operations. We had to hire a welder to come to my home to do the work as the machine, being assembled now, became heavier and harder to transport. Earlier, all the parts were heavy but small enough to be transported in my own car. After its heart was assembled, only a mini truck could hold it.

Real Machine (Some Components Not Connected)

As time passed, we kept on assembling things. Exams really put a brake to our efforts and some work was left for the two weeks after exams, till the open house. Now we were working from about 9 in morning to 7 in evening, not even getting a chance to go into my house despite being working in the porch of it. Things started to break, sometimes due to mishandling. New unseen issues arose. A lot of work popped up which we hadn’t anticipated. Costs were already going up due to repair or design tweaks. Fighting all those, we had the machine standing about 2 days before open house, albeit with few misalignments of some components. Nevertheless, it could perform some functions, though in limited ‘demo’ mode.

Our worst nightmare came when we were transporting the machine to college for open house. Since it wasn’t designed to sustain upward loads, it broke one of its legs the night before open house while offloading. That was our most tense moment. At around 9 pm, we managed to get a welder to get the job done. Somehow, it was again ready for display. Having known some more weaknesses of design, we vowed to correct them after open house before handing over the machine to our clients. Surprisingly, a quick solution solved the problem and left us lamenting that had we done this before, we could have avoided so much expense and headache.

Nevertheless, in the end, we had our 150 kg, 7 feet long and 4 feet wide machine ready with all components mounted. It had caused us to remain on our toes for about 3 months, made us travel in intense heat with no time for lunch or water. Watching it stand somehow gives a relief now and makes us think that all our effort was not wasted.

I had always been a shy and a bit curious person all my life. During this project, I learnt a lot to overcome my limitations and feel like a better person. The reward of projects is not just technical learning: it teaches you management, staying cool, and lots of other behavioral traits. Today, it doesn’t matter to me how good or bad was our design and effort. What makes me happy is that today I am a better and confident professional because of all the grind we took. We had worked like 180+ hours on the entire project. That’s similar to working continuously for more than 10 days. At extreme working time, we did not have time even for lunch. And the traveling was around 1000+ kilometers.

The machine now stands and awaits delivery to our clients. We had utilized our knowledge of dynamics, statistics, mechanics of materials, machine design, and mechanical element design during our project. In terms of scope, it was quite huge and we felt we two were too less of a workforce for a project of this level. Nevertheless, due to Allah’s will and support of our families, we did it and got the comfort that we had not wasted our engineering studies.