Distributed Systems Lab digitizes student-engineered innovations

The colorful grid of monitors currently located in the lobby of Milne Library is no isolated project, it is a sample of work from a unique Geneseo technology department.

Supported by the Office of the Provost, the Distributed Systems Lab in South 347 specializes in linking individual computers together in ways that open up new possibilities for science, mathematics and digital art. Students and classes are welcome to visit and make use of these uniquely powerful systems.

“The focus is on … distributed systems, which is the idea of having a bunch of computers work together to solve one problem,” said junior Herb Susmann, one of the students responsible for the lab’s upkeep.

The wall of monitors uses an assortment of ordinary personal computers and an equal number of monitors assembled as an electronic grid. Each of these systems is called a cluster.

“There are 16 individual computers back there and each one controls one screen,” Susmann said.

The large digital grid in Milne Library showcases the technology’s artistic capabilities, and according to Susmann, math and science hold even deeper potential.

“For years, the physics [department] has been using those computers … for research into bullet dynamics,” Susmann said.

Susmann is currently using a cluster for his own project. With his biology professor, he uses computer calculations to study contagion patterns.

“It’s using computers to simulate how diseases spread,” Susmann said. “You set up a fake network of how people might interact with each other … then you infect one person … and you can watch it spread.”

Senior Stephen Kowalewski, another student working at the Distributed Systems Lab, described how the facilities are open for interdisciplinary use by any student with a large project.

“When there [are] computer-related projects in other departments, we can go back and use the distributed computers and solve these big problems a lot faster,” Kowalewski said.

“That’s kind of where science is going, in my opinion,” Susmann said. “Toward using computers to figure out really difficult things.”

Susmann said that he encourages students to consider joining the team of undergraduates responsible for maintaining the machines and experimenting with new technology. No experience is required.

The Distributed Systems Lab’s uses are increasing rapidly as digital technology seems to take more of a role in education and research. Whether or not they choose to take part, students are sure to see its products lead the accelerating progression of Geneseo’s technological identity.