Princeton University is planning to build a 40,000-square-foot home for its high-performance research computing systems on the Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, just north of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, by 2011.

The new building is part of the university’s 10-year plan for growth and expansion, first announced in 2008. The university will not say what the building is expected to cost, but it will serve as the home of TIGRESS — Princeton’s Terascale Infrastructure for Groundbreaking Research in Engineering and Science Center — and support a smaller component of the university’s administrative computing capacity.

San Francisco-based Gensler is to be the project’s architect, while AKF Group of Boston will head engineering, and New York City-based CS Technology will handle project management, according to a university statement.

Groundbreaking will have to wait for the approval of the Plainsboro Planning Board, which the university expects to get. University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said that Princeton had presented its case on January 19 and received positive response. The school already owns Forrestal Campus. Once built, the two-story building is expected to support the university’s program needs through at least 2017. Plans also allow for future expansion that some day could double the square footage.

TIGRESS is now based in the university’s building at 87 Prospect Street and at the Lewis Library.

Though only staffed by three, the new building is necessary because of growth in the university’s research computing program, says Curt Hillegas, right, director of TIGRESS. The program “is growing rapidly and across many disciplines,” he says. The university is expanding the parameters of astrophysical modeling, geophysical modeling, chemical modeling of molecular dynamics, biochemical modeling, and fusion research.

“This growth accompanies the emergence of computation as a third mode of research in science and engineering,” Hillegas says. Computer modeling allows researchers to test and rethink theories and applications that might otherwise take years or a prohibitive amount of resources, or to look into matters that might just be impossible to duplicate in the real world.

Hillegas, who earned his master’s and Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton — the latter in 2002 — also holds a bachelor’s in chemistry from Lehigh, Class of 1987. Hillegas took over TIGRESS in 2007, 12 years after he joined the university as a systems programmer. He has since managed the school’s high-performance computer systems and has helped to build a centrally managed research computing infrastructure that includes 65 tera-FLOPS (“floating point operations per second”) of computation, and 1 petabyte (1 quadrillion bytes) of shared storage.

TIGRESS currently houses six computing systems that range in speed from 700 megahertz to 3.2 gigahertz. It is funded by the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering, the Office of Information Technology, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

The site at Forrestal is intended to enhance the center’s ability to partner with the neighboring Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, which has a collaborative program in atmospheric and oceanic sciences with Princeton. It is also meant to enhance the relationship the university has with Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and managed by the university.

Princeton University, 87 Prospect Street, Princeton 08544; 609-258-6073; fax, 609-258-3943. Home page: www.princeton.edu.

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