Director of UTC’s SimCenter and researcher of high-performance computing and cybersecurity encourages a ‘mindset of commercialization.’

Over his nearly 30-year career, Dr. Tony Skjellum’s research has focused on high-performance computing and cybersecurity, with a strong emphasis on the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain technologies. He currently serves as a professor of Computer Science and Engineering and director of the SimCenter at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.

UTC’s SimCenter is a multidisciplinary research center designed to advance modeling- and simulation-based science. At the SimCenter, Skjellum’s primary role is with the Center of Excellence in Applied Computational Science and Engineering program that awards competitive grants to UTC faculty to further their research. He also helps advance the SimCenter as a core facility for high-performance computing and storage and encourages a mindset of commercialization.

SimCenter. Photo courtesy of UTC.

“I think commercialization is a crucial activity and undervalued in the sense that it’s not pervasive yet,” remarks Skjellum. “It’s always been undervalued, so it’s not a new problem. But in places that are more successful at it, it adds a wonderful dimension to all aspects of a university.”

Skjellum developed an interest in computers at an early age when his school bought a few microcomputers in the late 1970s. He and his classmates tore them apart and learned how to use them inside out.

“I got very interested in computers, algorithms and math from that experience, which led to an entire career in scientific computing,” he said. “Of course, when you have one computer then you think about putting 100, 1,000 or 10,000 of them together and seeing what they can do. That led to my main area of high-performance computing.”

About halfway through his career, Skjellum began researching cybersecurity, focusing on blockchain and IoT. But no matter his focus, he has always been interested in how to use computers to solve bigger problems.

Dr. Tony Skjellum

One of Skjellum’s proudest accomplishments in his career stems from his time at Mississippi State University. During the mid-1990s, his research group collaborated with Argonne National Laboratory to develop the initial MPICH implementation of the message passage interface (MPI), a communication standard in parallel computing. This first implementation led to broad use of performance portable programming for parallel software, paving the way for a new era in parallel computing.

“Most parallel programs that run on multiple servers use MPI to this day,” notes Skjellum.  “That area has allowed a whole renaissance of parallel programs, starting around 1994, and now MPI is endemic across the world. The whole field developed out of the work that my group and others did.”

Since coming to UTC in 2017, Skjellum has filed two invention disclosures pertaining to blockchain technology. Skjellum is thankful for UTRF’s support of researchers at the SimCenter. He looks forward to future opportunities to work with UTRF and thinks interactions will only grow over time.

“It’s part of our duty as professors to ensure that what we create doesn’t just go on a shelf, and that it continues to be useful if it has practical applications,” Skjellum emphasizes.

“The contributions Tony has made to the fields of high-performance computing and cybersecurity are astounding,” comments Dr. Nghia Chiem, a technology manager at UTRF. “We look forward to working with him and SimCenter researchers for years to come.”