2016 Archives

A dream, a high-performance computer and an audition

How building a supercomputer for less than $1000 changed the life path for a graduating SMU physics student

December 13, 2016

By Kenny Ryan
SMU News

 Moez Janmohammad
Moez Janmohammad

DALLAS (SMU)When Moez Janmohammad first enrolled at SMU, he had life all figured out. He’d picked a school that was close to home and the parents he cherished, and he would pursue a physics degree before applying to grad school. That path would lead to a coveted technology career he could enjoy.

But things changed when Janmohammad spent his senior year building a super computer in his apartment – for less than $1,000. He pitched the idea to SMU’s Engaged Learning program, earning a Big iDeas grant to develop the prototype. He then snagged an audition spot for a TEDxSMU conference, which led to being recruited for a job at technology integration company GDT, where he’ll engineer the digital security networks of the future after he graduates from SMU on Dec. 17.

It’s a new plan and a new direction that Janmohammad couldn’t be more excited about.

“I never thought that building a super computer as a personal project could end up getting me a job,” Janmohammad said. “I started building the super computer in February of this year – it feels like such a long time ago.”

As a student at SMU, Janmohammad has access to ManeFrame, the University’s high performance computer, but he decided to build his own because he wanted to create a blueprint for others who lack access to super computers.

Also, Janmohammad had challenged himself to learn a new skill each month of the year. Learning how to build his own personal super computer struck him as a perfectly reasonable skill to learn.

“Super computers are parallel processing machines that can use multiple processors at the same time,” he explained. “Most computers work one task, then do the next and work down the list. The super computer I built has 12 processors, so it can run 12 tasks simultaneously.”

With enough processors, super computers can do in seconds what laptops do in hours.

PiJanmohammad named his super computer Parallel Pi, both for its parallel processers and for the first task he commanded it to complete – calculating Pi to the 10,000th decimal.

As the super computer began to take shape, Janmohammad decided the process of building his own might make a good TEDxSMU talk, and he tried it out at an audition in March.  His try-out didn’t win him a spot on the TEDxSMU big stage, but a team of engineers from GDT were in the audience for his audition.

They were impressed.

“Immediately after the audition ended, I had seven or eight people from GDT mob the table I was at,” Janmohammad said. “They told me to come check out GDT, so the week after I went out and had lunch with them, and a week after that they offered me a summer internship. At the end of the summer, they offered me a full-time job.”

Now that Janmohammad is close to graduating, he plans on leaving Parallel Pi behind. He’s currently looking for a professor, or maybe a younger student, to inherit the computer and continue the project of making supercomputing accessible to anyone who dares to dream.

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls approximately 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

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