01/18/18

Buckeye Pi: the most powerful student-built supercomputer made from Raspberry Pis

Amin Amooie, a doctoral student in earth sciences at The Ohio State University, and his team built a supercomputer they’ve dubbed “Buckeye Pi.”

The project began a year ago, when Amooie (photo, right) faced the same problem as a growing number of students in the sciences.Amin Amooie, a doctoral student in earth sciences at The Ohio State University, is part of a team building a supercomputer cluster out of Raspberry Pi circuit boards. Photo by Joachim Moortgat, courtesy of The Ohio State University.

“I have always wanted to test approaches to large-scale problems, learning things that can be used for real-world applications,” he said. “That meant running really detailed simulations, and also learning how to write code for parallel computing.”

He began the long process of learning how to code and adapting the code to suit simulations in his area of research: fluid flow in porous media. (Think: recovering oil and gas from the ground, or storing carbon dioxide in deep geological formations, or just following the flow of water in a riverbed.) It didn’t make sense to request time on a supercomputer every time he wanted to test a small change in the code.

Amooie joined with undergraduate student Connor Basile, who majors in physics. In the garage of Joachim Moortgat, assistant professor of earth sciences and Amooie’s adviser, they drilled holes in wooden planks and built their own computer rack from scratch, complete with a passive cooling system. with 128 circuit boards and 512 processors, it’s also the most powerful student-built supercomputer ever made from off-the-shelf Raspberry Pi circuit boards.

The funding to develop Buckeye Pi came from the university’s Office of Energy and Environment and the Alumni Grants for Graduate Research and Scholarship.