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Peng's Collaborative Work in Crop Prediction Earns HPC Innovation Excellence Award

1/20/2021 8:58:12 AM Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

In November, Illinois CS professor and Willett Faculty Fellow Jian Peng found out he was part of a collaboration that earned a 2020 HPC Innovation Excellence Award announced by Hyperion Research.

The project, led by Blue Waters professor Kaiyu Guan from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), also includes NCSA scientist Bin Peng and Jian Peng. Their work titled “Reliable and Novel Tools for Long-Term Crop Prediction" earned the recognition.

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Illinois CS professor Jian Peng's influential and collaborative research in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology led to improved crop monitoring and modeling.

According to the call for nominations, the HPC Innovation Excellence Award recognizes noteworthy achievements by users of high performance computing (HPC). It covers HPC uses in fields like artificial intelligence, advanced analytics, simulation, quantum computing, and other methods and technologies. The award not only recognizes achievement in science, but it’s application to the real world—something that Peng said is gratifying.

“I am thrilled to be part of such a great group, whose objectives provide an opportunity to use our areas of expertise to benefit the science industry and people in agriculture,” Peng said. “That’s why this award from Hyperion means so much to us. It validates the efforts we are taking and recognizes the difference it will make for others.”

The group’s work resulted in the evaluation and implementation of a new crop growth model that improves upon previous iterations. In using the new model along with satellite data, they advanced crop monitoring and modeling

The model created more detailed phenology stages, which implement the impact of abiotic environment stresses – e.g. nitrogen, water, temperature and heat. The result is one of the most reliable tools for long-term crop prediction in the U.S. Corn Belt.

“Bin Peng, Jian Peng, and I are grateful that Blue Waters supercomputer provides unprecedented capability for our work. It allows us to integrate petabyte NASA satellite data and advanced earth system models together. Further empowered by artificial intelligence, it pioneers innovations in crop monitoring and modeling. We will continue this effort and use our work to create tangible benefits to farmers and society,” Guan said.

Their work:

  • More accurately predicts corn yields than previous models
  • Corrected a deficiency in a previous model that underestimated above ground biomass and overestimated the Harvest Index, thus producing a reasonable yield estimation with wrong mechanisms
  • Accurately accounts for growing season climate, which will fuel the group’s interest in the effects of climate change into the future

"These awards highlight the innovative use of artificial intelligence that is transforming scientific research. They also illustrate the power of the Blue Waters supercomputer in research that benefits society," says William "Bill" Gropp, Thomas M. Siebel Chair in Computer Science and NCSA director.

The Hyperion HPC Innovation Excellence Award is just the latest in a series of recognitions recently won by Peng, which include the 2020 Overton Prize, a 2020 Grainger Engineering Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research for Assistant Professors, and a 2020 Donald Biggar Willett Faculty Fellowship from Grainger Engineering.

His growing research footprint also includes leadership of the AI-Enabled Synthesis Planning thrust in the AI Institute for Molecular Discovery, Synthetic Strategy, and Manufacturing, one of seven new national artificial intelligence institutes named by the National Science Foundation in 2020.

Peng also is part of a group that earned nearly $9 million in funding over the next three years from Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s to study how to use stem cells to better understand ways in which risk factors accumulate and interact to drive Parkinson’s disease.