Oregon State plans $200 million supercomputer center backed by $50 million from Nvidia CEO

Oregon State University plans to build a major supercomputing research center in Corvallis, a $200 million project backed by a $50 million donation from the CEO of semiconductor giant Nvidia.

“The researchers at Oregon State are going to experience computing like it’s a time machine,” said Jensen Huang, Nvidia’s co-founder and CEO and an Oregon State graduate, whose gift was announced Friday night. He said the supercomputer will enable university researchers to conduct advanced simulations that can answer complex scientific questions in a single day that might otherwise have taken a month.

That could enable breakthroughs in climatology, materials science, oceanography and other Oregon State research specialties, Huang said. He said it could attract students and scientists to Corvallis, in the same way radio telescopes and particle colliders do at other universities

“We need instruments to advance science,” Huang said in an interview this week. He and his wife, Lori, met as Oregon State engineering students. Huang said he and his wife spent five years talking with the university about how to make a meaningful contribution to research in Corvallis.

“It’s cool for climate scientists, it’s cool for computer scientists, it’s going to be great for the students,” Huang said. “It’s going to be great for Oregon and hopefully it’s going to be great for generations.”

Oregon State said the Jen-Hsun and Lori Huang Collaborative Innovation Complex — using a more conventional spelling of Huang’s first name than the one he’s most often used professionally — will open in 2025.

A couple sitting closely together. She's wearing glasses in an olive green jacket. He's wearing a black leather jacket.

Lori and Jensen Huang met as engineering students at Oregon State University.Nvidia photo

The university said it has secured $50 million in additional donations to help fund the three-story, 150,000-square-foot research building on the northwest corner of the Corvallis campus. But it still needs to raise another $100 million.

It’s not uncommon for big fundraising initiatives to announce projects before they have all the money in hand. That can help attract more donors and create a sense of urgency in talks with other funding sources.

In this case, Oregon State says it will seek $75 million in state funding during the upcoming legislative session to cover most of the innovation center’s remaining cost.

“The collaborative innovation complex will be a key component of efforts championed by federal and state, business and academic leaders to support the competitiveness of Oregon’s semiconductor industry,” Edward Feser, Oregon State’s provost, said in a written statement.

Oregon’s chip sector is a focus of renewed attention from state government and business leaders as the federal government prepares to distribute $280 million in congressionally approved aid for the sector. Boosters hope to increase the state’s profile as a destination for semiconductor manufacturing and research.

Nvidia develops advanced semiconductors that enable artificial intelligence and other high-performance computing tasks. It’s one of the world’s largest computer companies, with a market value of approximately $300 billion.

That’s nearly three times greater than rival Intel and makes Huang, who founded the Silicon Valley company in 1993, one of the richest people in the tech industry. Forbes pegged his net worth at $11.4 billion earlier this year.

Nvidia will both power the new research center and benefit from it. Oregon State said it will employ Nvidia chips and computing systems in innovation center’s supercomputer. Nvidia has a small engineering and marketing office in Hillsboro.

A computer rendering of a low-slung, brick-and-glass structure with a long, wide driveway in front.

A rendering of the three-story, 150,000-square-foot Jen-Hsun and Lori Huang Collaborative Innovation Complex. Oregon State plans to open the $200 million supercomputing center in 2025 on the northwest corner of its Corvallis campus, near the intersection of Monroe Avenue and Southwest 23rd StreetOregon State University image

Oregon has one of the densest concentrations of semiconductor manufacturing of any place in the nation. But unlike emerging computer chip hubs in Arizona, Ohio and New York, Oregon doesn’t have a top-tier engineering school to help anchor the industry.

Oregon State’s supercomputing center could help address that by making the state a destination for materials research, a key element of future advances in semiconductor technology.

Last month, Huang and Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger had an informal, long-distance debate over the status of Moore’s law, the maxim — coined by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore — that predicted exponential growth in computing power at regular intervals even as the price of that technology fell.

It’s a pace that has proven impossible to maintain over the past several years as the feature on computer chips approached the atomic scale. Intel has suffered crippling delays to successive generations of its new processor technology.

At an Nvidia technology conference in September, Huang declared “Moore’s law is dead,” explaining that the price of advanced computer systems was fated to rise in the future and the speed of innovation would slow.

Gelsinger fired back a week later at Intel’s own technology conference, insisting Moore’s law is “alive and well” and promising fresh advances in computing.

“When something dies, it might be reincarnated, but it dies,” Huang said in this week’s interview. He said computing technology will continue to advance, albeit along a different track.

The issue is that the conventional means of increasing computer performance, packing more transistors into the same space, isn’t physically possible any longer.

“We could keep our head in the sand, but we have to acknowledge the fact that we have to do something different,” Huang said in this week’s interview. “That’s really what it’s about.”

Supercomputers will play an essential role in that new approach, he said. Advanced simulations can help researchers explore new materials that can improve computing power without requiring smaller features on the chips themselves, and Huang said he hopes that will be one way researchers use the new innovation center in Corvallis.

Climate science represents another major opportunity in supercomputing, according to Huang. Research centers like the one Oregon State plans can help answer questions about just how climate change will impact the planet — and how to craft solutions to mitigate it.

“Climate science is divisive today. The reason for that is because people see a different future,” Huang said.

Supercomputers can help people evaluate various solutions to climate change by weighing their benefits against their costs, according to Huang.

Technology could also help pinpoint what climate change means in Oregon, Huang said, and in Venice, in the Gulf of Mexico, or to someone living along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. He said that could make the impacts more tangible to people all over the world, and in turn leave them more open to addressing the crisis.

“We need to be able to answer these questions,” Huang said. “What does it mean to you? So that it unites people rather than divides people.”

— Mike Rogoway | mrogoway@oregonian.com | 503-294-7699 | twitter: @rogoway |

Our journalism needs your support. Please become a subscriber today at OregonLive.com/subscribe.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Lazy Cork
Enable registration in settings - general
Compare items
  • Total (0)
Shopping cart