Virginia Tech serves as one of four universities designated as a research site for the Center for Space, High-Performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC), a National Science Foundation (NSF) Industry-University Collaborative Research Center.

It shares this distinction with University of Pittsburgh, Brigham Young University, and University of Florida, where each university receives $750,000 over a five-year period resulting in a total of $3 million for the center. 

Each Industry-University Collaborative Research Center is a national resource, with special expertise around the theme of mission-critical computing, in terms of space, high-performance, and/or resilient computing. “It can recruit better students and better prepare them through graduate studies with member interaction for supercharged career opportunities after graduation,” said Alan George, the NSF SHREC director, who serves as department chair and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh.

Each year, SHREC brings together close to 40 academic, industry, and government organizations to exchange their ideas and bring updates from their respective areas. While these have traditionally been in person, the meetings have more recently moved to a virtual format.

Faculty and graduate students in SHREC gather together in a building atrium.
Center for Space, High-Performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC) faculty and graduate students from member universities gather together at the 2019 mid-year workshop. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

While Virginia Tech has served a role in the NSF Industry-University Collaborative Research Center program over the last 14 years, the last three years have been marked with exceptional momentum, said Wu Feng, one of four co-directors of SHREC and professor in the Department of Computer Science, the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

A Launchpad for Talent

Since 2018, Virginia Tech has received more than $1.5 million for their portion of SHREC, including a $600,000 NSF Industry-University Collaborative Research Center grant. In addition, the center has received $850,000 of associated research funding from the Department of Defense, AMD, Capital One, and MIT Lincoln Laboratory. This funding could not have timed better with the launch of Virginia's Higher Education Package, including the new Innovation Campus in Alexandria, Virginia. 

Both SHREC and the higher education package are examples of front-facing models of moving the economy forward to develop talent. The higher education project will propel Virginia’s colleges and universities to produce 25,000 new degrees in computer science and related fields by 2039 to create a tech talent pipeline to support Virginia’s high-tech industry.

With this collective funding, Virginia Tech’s presence in SHREC was augmented with the recent addition of two computer science professors: Chris North in 2020 and Doug Bowman in 2021.

Chris North
Chris North
Doug Bowman
Doug Bowman

“SHREC has provided an excellent opportunity for our graduate students to engage with external partners during the course of their research, for the purpose of attracting funding, meeting with stakeholders on a regular basis, and making their thesis work more relevant and impactful,” said North, who also serves as associate director of the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence & Data Analytics.

Propelled by Partnerships

In addition to its academic, industrial, and federal partners, SHREC’s research portfolio is supported by equipment and tools provided by leading vendors of technologies in high-performance reconfigurable computing and related areas.

World Wide Technology, a privately-held technology services provider, recently donated a $40,000 experimental computing system to help augment the research of both Virginia Tech’s Synergistic Environments for Experimental Computing Center and SHREC.

"Virginia Tech is an innovator in conducting groundbreaking research," said Shawn Rodriguez, vice president for state and local government and education at World Wide Technology. "From mission-critical space, high-performance, and resilient computing in support of signal processing, real-time vision, and other applications to massively accelerate discovery and innovation through the synergistic co-design of hardware, software, and algorithms, we are proud to support Virginia Tech and its research programs.”

Wu Feng in his SYNERGY Lab with Proteus servers.
Wu Feng in his SYNERGY Lab which has been augmented with Proteus servers donated by World Wide Technology, a privately-held technology services provider. Photo by Hannah Lee and Andrew Cybak.

Student-Centric Center

“From my 14 years of experience, I consider the Industry-University Collaborative Research Center model from NSF for national research to be truly outstanding, providing the most impactful research experiences for students and faculty alike, as well as industry and government partners,” said George

SHREC currently supports the research of 49 graduate students across the four-member universities, translated to approximately $2 million per year. One of these students is Frank Wanye, a third-year computer science Ph.D. student whose research interests include parallel and distributed computing, graph processing, and big data. He is currently working on two projects funded by SHREC, while also serving as a graduate research assistant at the SyNeRGy Lab, led by Feng. 

Computer science Ph.D. graduate student Frank Wanye.
SHREC-funded research has allowed Frank Wanye, a third-year Ph.D. student, the opportunity to present his findings on the world stage and interact with peers at other universities. Photo by Hannah Lee and Andrew Cybak.

Wanye and Feng received the MIT/Amazon/IEEE Graph Challenge's Student Innovation Award at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) High-Performance Extreme Computing  Conference, the world's largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology. Their research was directly supported by SHREC.

At the same conference, Feng, along with co-authors Mohamed Hassan, a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech and Scott Pakin, a researcher at Los Alamos National Lab, received the Innovative Paper Award for their groundbreaking work on quantum computing. 

The Center also seeks to address the shortage in the mission-critical computing workforce by training many students with the knowledge and skills necessary to solve the many challenges facing this growing industry. Traveling to workshops, interacting with other graduate students, and meeting the sponsors—all by-products of being a part of SHREC—has been a tremendous benefit for Wanye. “Talking to others and sharing my work through poster presentations gives me a great understanding of what everyone is working on,” he said.