What can giant computing systems do for you?

Updated: 2012-10-07 07:53

(China Daily)

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Why do we need supercomputers?

First, weather forecasting: Supercomputers can simulate the movement of airflows and ocean currents, enabling scientists to make accurate predictions about the weather, which can decrease the damage wrought by nature disasters.

Second, earthquake warnings: Researchers need supercomputers to simulate the movements of the Earth's lithosphere so they can predict earthquakes.

Third, genomics and bioscience: Supercomputers are needed to perform the large number of calculations involved in genomics and biomedicine.

Fourth, physical geography: Scientists need supercomputers to create simulations involving physical geography, for example, those used in oil exploration.

Fifth, astrophysics: Supercomputers are essential in astrophysics, where they are used to simulate the interactions and behavior of celestial objects including galaxies, stars and planets.

Sixth, automobile design: Supercomputers can cope with all the calculations involved in automobile design, including fluid mechanics, fuel consumption, aerodynamics and impact resistance.

Seventh, new materials: supercomputers are indispensable for the development of nano materials.

Eighth, social sciences: Social sciences including macro-economic and population studies cannot be done without an enormous amount of calculations, so they also need supercomputers.

Developing China's first supercomputer

The first high-powered computers were developed in the United States by Seymour Cray, the so-called father of supercomputing, in the early 1960s, while he was working for the Control Data Corp. A decade later, he left to start his own business, Cray Research, which has dominated the field ever since.

Although smaller competitors are fighting for a share of the market, most disappeared without a trace when the market crashed in the mid-1990s. Today, supercomputers are typically produced by Cray, IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

In China, technicians at the institute of computing technology under the China Academy of Sciences built the nation's first computer in 1958, two years after the unveiling of the National Plan on the Prospect on the Development of Science and Technology (1956-1967), China's first long-range plan for scientific and technological development.

But China's development of a supercomputer hit a hurdle during the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976), and it wasn't until 1978 that then leader Deng Xiaoping chose the National University of Defense Technology as one of the chief institutions to develop China's own supercomputer. Five years later, the college produced a computer that could perform 100 million calculations a second. It was China's first supercomputer.

China made high performance computing a key item of the 863 Program, a State-sponsored development initiative, in the 9th Five-Year Plan (1996-2000), and China now has four national supercomputing centers: Tianjin, Shenzhen, Changsha and Jinan.

China Daily

(China Daily 10/07/2012 page8)