NERSC's Hopper supercomputer breaks petaflop barrier; better research on tap

The U.S. Dept. of Energy's NERSC is now home to Hopper, the fifth-most powerful supercomputer in the world. On tap: better climate change, clean energy, astrophysics and genomics research.

The U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, or NERSC, is now home to the fifth-most powerful supercomputer in the world.

According to the latest edition of the TOP500 list, which ranks the world’s top computers, the NERSC's "Hopper" -- a 153,408 processor-core Cray XE6 system -- managed 1.05 petaflops (quadrillions of calculations per second) running the Linpack benchmark, making it the fifth fastest in the world and second fastest in the U.S.

(The top spot was claimed by a Chinese supercomputer, the Tianhe-1A, managing 2.57 petaflops per second.)

The system was installed in September 2010.

So why should you care about such an esoteric title? Because elite supercomputers facilitate some of the most complex research conducted by scientists: global climate change, combustion, clean energy, new materials, astrophysics, genomics, particle physics and chemistry.

The NERSC -- which is located at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California -- offers its services to more than 3,000 researchers supported by the DOE. More than 1,500 scientific publications are informed by calculations run at NERSC.

A more powerful supercomputer helps scientists gain greater detail and accuracy in their research. For a climate model, that may mean increased resolution; for materials science, that may mean more complex models. A stronger supercomputer also allows researchers to test multiple theories with large data sets more quickly.

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