Beautiful Minds: High performance

Friday, March 30, 2012

Dennis Guster tackles challenges that are crucial to the future well being of businesses around the world. Photograph by Heidi Shub 05.

It’s the stuff they make movies about – computer hackers, national security, encryption and encoding.

The work that Dennis Guster, professor in the Department of Information Systems and his colleagues do is both highly technical and highly intriguing. That is if you can take some time to decipher what it is they do.

And for many of us whose idea of fixing a computer problem is rebooting, that’s more easily said than done.

Guster works in a high performance computer lab at St. Cloud State University conducting research on such things as molecular modeling and quantum encryption. This research is conducted in Centennial Hall where a “couple million dollars in high-end computer equipment” resides, said Guster, who added that more than 95 percent of that equipment was funded by industry partners as close to home as W3i in Sartell and some from places like California’s Silicon Valley.

“These are complex real-world problems,” said Guster, who works in tandem with Renat Sultanov, a nuclear physicist and “a worldclass scientist” who came to St. Cloud State via Texas A&M and the University of Nevada Las Vegas. One of the draws of St. Cloud State for Sultanov, a native of the former Soviet Union, was his desire to return to a northern climate.

Another was being able to work with Guster, a native of Iowa who as a boy dreamed of being a naval aviator only the learn that his eyesight wasn’t up to par. “Thank God,” said Guster, who would have served in the military during the Vietnam War. Instead, he enrolled at Bemidji State University where he played the trombone in the marching band for one year. But then, the realization that lips and trombones in Bemidji in the late fall and winter are not a good mix, led him on a path of math, statistics and eventually computers.

And he’s made the most out of that work.

“We’ve cranked out a lot of research papers in the last five years,” Guster said as he referenced some of that work. One, done by a St. Cloud State student who is now a graduate student at the University of Southern California, was presented at the American Chemical Society. And Sultanov, thanks to a National Security Agency grant, was able to present a paper in Switzerland where he rubbed elbows with researchers from Harvard and MIT.

“Within our little niche we are able to compete worldwide. Some of our papers have been cited by the top people in their fields in Germany,” Guster said.

Simply stated, the research work and papers validate what Guster, his colleagues and students are doing “and that our ideas are worth something.”

That becomes paramount in today’s economy where universities are fighting for funding, especially state universities who are seeing their state funding being cut severely.

“We need outside funding to be viable,” Guster said. “We are doing stuff in nano technology where we can compete, but doing experiments in laboratories would cost tens of millions of dollars. But on a computational level we can compete.”

The Information Systems Department offers an undergraduate degree program to students who want to prepare for careers in the management information systems profession. The IS program is about applying information technology to solve business problems. Students develop skills in analyzing business problems and get hands-on training in computer programming, systems design, computer networking, security as well as other current computer technology.

- Mike Nistler '79

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