Going faster for 30 years

Going faster for 30 years

URBANA — Today's laptop can perform 80 billion operations per second — 80 gigaflops in technical terms.

That's 164 times the power of the first Cray XMP supercomputer used at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications when it opened in 1986.

Computers and consumer technology have made enormous advances in the 30 years since NCSA was founded to provide American researchers with the fastest supercomputers in the world.

The center is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a series of talks, seminars, open houses, an exhibit at the University of Illinois Spurlock Museum, and other events showcasing its achievements.

Events will kick off tonight with a talk by renowned Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, "Faster than the Speed of Light," who is known for proposing a "warp drive" that a spacecraft could use to achieve faster-than-light travel. It's scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the Spurlock Museum, 600 S. Gregory Drive, U.

Alcubierre plans to give a short introduction to the basic concepts of Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity, the basis of all modern physics, as well as Einstein's theory of general relativity, the modern theory of gravity. It postulates that the presence of large concentrations of mass and energy produce a "curvature" in space-time. Alcubierre will talk about how the curvature of space time can be used to travel "faster than the speed of light" and ideas behind the geometric model for a "warp drive."

He will also speak Friday morning at NCSA on "Numerical Relativity and the Binary Black Hole Problem." Numerical relativity involves using numerical simulations to study astrophysical systems with gravitational fields, particularly the collision of black holes and gravitational waves.

NCSA was one of the original sites of the National Science Foundation's Supercomputer Centers Program, an idea promulgated by former UI physics Professor Larry Smarr, who would become NCSA's first director.

Before NCSA existed, researchers interested in using supercomputers had limited resources, according to the history outlined in the new NCSA exhibit at Spurlock. Smarr, along with seven other UI professors, sent an unsolicited proposal to the NSF proposing a center for scientific and engineering supercomputing, which led to the creation of the supercomputing centers program.

Scientists from many disciplines have used NCSA's supercomputing power, from the Cray-XMP to today's Blue Waters petascale supercomputer, for a number of "firsts." Among them:

— The first 3-D simulation of black holes, in 1993, by Smarr and current NCSA Director Ed Seidel, which helped pave the way for the first-ever observation of gravitational waves from the collision of two black holes, announced last month.

— The first simulation of the entire HIV capsid, a protein shell that protects the virus's genetic material and is a key to its virulence. The simulation helped researchers determine HIV's chemical structure.

— The first simulation of an EF5 tornado, which will help scientists better understand severe storms.

For information on future 30th anniversary events, visit ncsa.illinois.edu for updates.

A modern laptop can perform 80 billion operations/second, or 80 gigaflops. Here's how that compares to NCSA's supercomputers over the years:

1986 Cray XMP - 0.49 gigaflops

1989 Cray-2 - 1.96 gigaflops

2004 Mercury - 2,000 gigaflops (or 2 terraflops)

2015 Blue Waters - 13,300,000 gigaflops (or 13.3 Petaflops)

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spangwurfelt wrote on March 04, 2016 at 6:03 am

Another one of the UIUC crown jewels being slowly dismantled in the Great Rauner Stupidization.