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Technology Center Loses Funds

Foundation to End Princeton Supercomputer Support

By Benjamin Dattner

Harvard will lose access to one of the nation's five supercomputers when the National Science Foundation cuts funding for the John von Neumann Supercomputer Center in Princeton, N.J. next September, officials said yesterday.

Thomas Weber, director for advanced scientific computing at the National Science Foundation in Washington, said yesterday that lab support was cut because the supercomputers' manufacturer had gone out of business.

The powerful, super-fast computers have in recent months been publicized as an important American technological advantage in international trade. NSF officials stressed yesterday, however, the cut off was not due to funding shortages.

"With the company out of business, there will be no one to fix it," Weber said. The director added that the von Neumann computers had also experienced considerable installation, hardware and software problems.

"We are not pleased," Dean of the Division of Applied Sciences Paul C. Martin said yesterday. "We are trusting that time will be available at the other four centers," said Martin, who called the loss "disturbing."

Harvard was one of 14 universities which shared use of the multi-million dollar Princeton facility in a consortium arrangement, Weber said yesterday. The supercomputers, highly valued in advanced scientific research, make billions of calculations per second and are used in subatomic physics and semiconductor research, among other applications.

Four supercomputers remain in service in the United States, spread around the Midwest and on the West Coast, said Professor of Physics David Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt, who is one of Harvard's two board members at the von Neumann site, called the NSF decision "not crippling but somewhat inconvenient."

Between 20 and 25 of Harvard's supercomputer users worked with the Princeton facilities because of its proximity, Vanderbilt said. But Weber said that while scientists have "an insatiable appetite for supercomputer time," the four remaining supercomputers nationwide will be upgraded to capacities more than double the current level.

Weber said the NSF withdrew its support, about $10 million annually, when the parent company of the von Neumann computer manufacturer disbanded the subsidiary. Control Data Corporation decided to "pull the plug" on ETA System, maker of the supercomputer, the NSF director said. He did not elaborate.

The end of NSF support does not necessarily mean that the von Neumann center will close, Vanderbilt said, although that is likely. Previously, a Minnesota facility cut off by the NSF secured funding from other sources, he said.

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