Supercomputers in Support of Science
Whether a computer is simulating the aging and performance of a nuclear weapon, the folding of a protein, or the probability of rainfall over a particular mountain range, the necessary calculations can be enormous. With each advancement in system hardware or software, Livermore researchers are ever ready to test the limits of computing power in search of answers to these and other complex problems. To assist them in their research, the Computation Directorate provides supercomputers that often rank high in performance. Today, the Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) Program’s 360-trillion floating-point operations-per-second (teraflops) BlueGene/L supercomputer at Livermore holds the world’s number one spot on the LINPACK benchmark, the industry standard used to measure computing speed.
As computing capability increases, Livermore’s high-performance computers are assuming an increasingly central role in the Laboratory’s research. In the 1990s, the Accelerated Strategic and Computing Initiative, now called the ASC Program, began using massively parallel computers, with the necessary computational speed and memory capacity to simulate complex multiphysics problems. In the last decade, the supercomputers’ supporting role has grown to accurately and quantitatively connect disparate phenomena in basic and applied science research.
To exploit the machines’ integrative capability and maximize potential scientific discoveries, physicist Michael McCoy of the Computation Directorate initiated the Multiprogrammatic and Institutional Computing (M&IC) Program in 1996 with institutional support from Jeff Wadsworth, then deputy director for science and technology, and director Bruce Tarter. The program provides Laboratory scientists and engineers access to ASC-class supercomputers for unclassified, mission-related research requiring the capability provided by big computers. “M&IC provides the Laboratory’s researchers a place to run unclassified calculations that are often as large as those used for the multiscale and multiphenomena calculations associated with the aging and performance of the nation’s weapons stockpile. The simulations we produce differentiate the Laboratory from other institutions,” says McCoy.