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Celebrating Pi Day: Make Mine Raspberry Pi

Just when it seems computers can't get any smaller, we learn about Raspberry Pis and Cubie boards. These credit card-sized computers are being networked into a minicluster by Dr. Jeffry Madura, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Duquesne University, and his team in the Center for Computational Sciences.

The Raspberry Pi is the first credit card-sized computer, originally designed for kids to start to learn the basics of programming. These minicomputers cost only $35 and include ports for a monitor, Ethernet, keyboard, High-definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) and an SD (secure digital) memory card to hold the operating system. Each Raspberry Pi offers the same durability as a standard computer.

The connection of multiple Raspberry Pis helps to maximize computational capability and can create an inexpensive "super cluster," in which the processors simultaneously work on the same problem. Madura and his team are connecting four Raspberry Pis to try to get them to communicate and run at the same capability of a higher quality cluster computer. The capability of these four Raspberry Pis compares to the power of four processors on one computer chip and is capable of high definition video, too.

Research team members Andrew Witchger, undergraduate physics and computer science student, and Scott Boesch, a staff research scientist, have helped harness the power of four Raspberry Pis. Witchger and Boesch also are working with the Cubie board, a newer version of credit card-sized computers. The Cubie board has the same capabilities of a Raspberry Pi, but has a much faster central processing unit.

"Raspberry Pis don't have the computing power of a traditional desktop, but this provides a hands-on demonstration of how computers work and how you can use them," said Madura. "It's an educational tool for students from kindergarten to college."

For Madura, who has networked three Play Station 3s to function as a cluster, creating the Raspberry Pi cluster to serve the same function as a typical desktop computer is exciting and, yes, fun.

It makes every day Pi Day for his team.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic research universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. The University is nationally ranked by U.S. News and World Report and the Princeton Review for its rich academic programs in nine schools of study for nearly 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students, and by the Washington Monthly for service and contributing to students' social mobility. Duquesne is a member of the U.S. President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction for its contributions to Pittsburgh and communities around the globe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Princeton Review's Guide to Green Colleges acknowledge Duquesne's commitment to sustainability.