Opening New Fields

We are going through a revolution, or a series of revolutions. As we increase the capability of computational platforms, not only in raw computational power, but also in communications, in memory, the amount of data a system can hold and manipulate comfortably, we keep opening up new fields that were not feasible for work before.

In the biomedical area alone, the picture has changed dramatically since NSF supercomputing began, little more than 15 years ago. In structural biology, computational work was feeling its way and it's now making important contributions. Functional magnetic-resonance imaging work on mapping the brain was not underway, and now, with supercomputing and high-performance networks, we can do multi-modal, real-time imaging that involves complicated transformations from raw data. This is now confined to research, but it will lead to clinical applications.

In Earth science, we're understanding the geodynamo for the first time, why the magnetic fields reverse, because of computation. And we're on the verge of reliable storm-scale weather forecasts, which would be impossible without these computational advances.

From the CRAY X-MP, our first machine in 1986, to the TCS is a giant leap - 6,000 times more compute power with 40,000 times the memory. We're going to see new work in dynamic visualization technologies, event re-creation and simulated reality. We expect to see important new work with practical consequences in the area of power generation, where the simulation technology is ready to be a design tool that will improve the efficiency of power-generating turbines. A very small improvement in efficiency translates to significant reductions in the cost of power, easily billions of dollars over years. This kind of work requires this new level of computational capability.

- Ralph Roskies, PSC co-scientific director