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Harnessing an important resource

The road to a level playing field for New England’s colleges and universities goes through the city of Holyoke.

A massive data processing center has been humming there for five years, built to take advantage of the former industrial city’s inexpensive electricity. Five of the state’s biggest schools -- MIT, Harvard, BU, Northeastern and UMass -- helped finance the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, and they share its processing power.

Now, with the help of a $1.1 million National Science Foundation grant, the group is trying to broaden the number of schools that can benefit. The money will fund a three-year program, paying for facilitators that will help researchers at smaller schools cooperate on projects and access the processing power at the Holyoke center and other academic locations. The state university systems in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are among the pivotal first participants.


John Goodhue, the Holyoke data center’s executive director, says about a dozen smaller schools have accessed his organization’s computers since the center opened in 2012. But the new program will address a pressing need for a matchmaking service, one that can better connect professors at smaller schools with the computers they need so they can focus more on their research. He wants to get at least a half dozen projects started by the fall, and hopes more than 30 institutions will eventually participate.

Holyoke’s computing resources are plentiful, an important resource like the river power that once buoyed the city’s economy. Now, professors won’t need to belong to an exclusive club to tap into that power.

Jon Chesto is a Globe reporter. Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.