TEAM SPEED

by Katy Sly '12
In our technology we seek speed and instant gratification. Who hasn't felt the frustration of a slow-to-load YouTube video or responded to the (too lingering!) spin of that infernal hourglass icon with an onslaught of aggressive mouse clicking followed by the abuse of the "Control-Alt-Delete" keys?

Perhaps some help is on the way. Senior Brian Barkley's summer SIP research explored a solution for digital slowness: team speed.

A computer's speed depends on its processor - the faster the processor, the faster the computer. Despite two decades of advances in computer performance, one eventually reaches a limit to the speed of any one unit. However, hooking up multiple computers and having the processors work together as a team can make a super computer with great speed. Currently, the fastest computer in the world consists of 130,000 processors. One physicist used eight Playstation-3s to make a super computer.

Not so fast, though. All teams are prey to a common problem: poor communication. Teams of processors often fail because they don't communicate very well.

Enter Barkley. The double major's (math and French) Senior Individualized Project uses math to explore how teams of processors can better communicate.

"It's called algebraic topology," said Barkley, "and combines topology and computer sciences. When you mix the two, you really start to get interesting stuff."

Definitely not the math your grandmother did - even if she was an expert in algebra and calculus. "This field only started being explored twenty to thirty years ago, and there is little literature on it," said Barkley.

That fact made Barkley's SIP a somewhat leap-before-you-look prospect. "I didn't exactly pick a subject I was strong in. Starting out, I knew nothing about the computer science involved
"One physicist used eight Playstation-3s to make a super computer."
or the math specific to my project, but I was - and am - excited to learn some computer science and the type of language that goes along with it," said Barkley.

He doesn't see himself making a remarkable ground breaking discovery, but maybe his footsteps will help make a narrow path a road.

"Hopefully my work will assist my SIP advisor [math professor Michele Intermont] as she more deeply explores this area of math and science," said Barkley. "Personally, I hope it will help me decide where I want to go for grad school."

There's still the pull of another language: French. Barkley has hopes for more international study and exposure to additional languages. "I would love to study abroad again, thanks to my wonderful experience in France. It would be amazing to work in a country where English is not the primary language."

Picture
Brian Barkley and his fast "team"

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