New Supercomputer a ‘Scientific Time Machine’ for Developing Endless Energy

(Photo: The Summit supercomputer. Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory unveiled what it calls the world’s most powerful and smartest scientific supercomputer. Built for the US Department of Energy, Summit will be eight times more powerful than the lab’s previous top-ranked system Titan, ORNL says.

“Summit will provide unprecedented computing power for research in energy, advanced materials and artificial intelligence, among other domains, enabling scientific discoveries that were previously impractical or impossible,” the lab announced on Friday.

The supercomputer is an IBM AC922 system with 4,608 compute servers, each containing two 22-core IBM Power9 processors and six NVIDIA Tesla V100 graphics processing unit accelerators interconnected with dual-rail Mellanox EDR 100Gb/s InfiniBand, the lab says. NVIDIA’s VP of the Accelerated Computing business unit Ian Buck called Summit “a scientific time machine.”

Capable of performing more than 3 billion calculations per second, the new supercomputer holds promise for contributing to the development of next-gen materials, including compounds for energy storage, conversion, and production. It edges out Titan, which first became available to researchers in 2013.

Previously, researchers relied on a quantum computing application called QMCPACK to simulate material interactions, but it had a high computational cost.

“Summit, however, can support materials composed of hundreds of atoms, a jump that aids the search for a more practical superconductor — a material that can transmit electricity with no energy loss,” according to ORNL. The supercomputer’s powerful nodes are expected to extend the range of simulations.

This year Summit will be open to select projects, the lab says, and then in 2019 most access will go to research teams selected through the DOE’s Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program.

One project on deck is around fusion, the energy source powering the sun, which has long been touted for its promise of clean, abundant energy, NVIDIA’s Buck pointed out in his recent blog post.

“Summit will be able to model a fusion reactor and its magnetically confined plasma, hastening commercial development,” he says.

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