A Utah State University engineering undergraduate says he likes working on his supercomputer project because "there's no answer in the back of the book."

Blake P. Tullis, a senior in civil and environmental engineering, has a long-distance relationship with the supercomputer facility at Cornell University.He is working on one aspect of a model of distribution of water in large systems, under a National Science Foundation program designed to provide research opportunities for U.S. undergraduates.

The project is also his senior design project.

Tullis spent a month at Cornell last summer with 16 other undergraduates, sharing his project and becoming acquainted with the supercomputer facilities. He uses the USU central computing system and funds provided by the foundation to communicate with the Cornell supercomputer.

"My project involves solving a large system of differential equations to define the unsteady flow that can exist in a large water system," Tullis said.

Roland Jeppson, USU professor of civil and environmental engineering, is Tullis' faculty adviser. Jeppson, who specializes in fluid mechanics, said supercomputers have provided engineers with a new tool for understanding what's happening in large water-delivery systems that use pipes.

"The problems associated with a big system were not solvable until we had supercomputers to do it," Jeppson said. "The supercomputer has 16 separate units working in parallel to solve problems, and the computer operations take place in nanoseconds. Signals move between circuits at the speed of light."

Software to aid practicing engineers with the design of systems involving hundreds or thousands of pipes began to be developed about 10 years ago at USU, he said. It is now available for mainframe and personal computers and is used throughout the world.