Supercomputers accelerate science and engineering breakthroughs

A special report highlights the accomplishments of researchers running large, complex, and often unprecedented simulations on Department of Energy Office of Science supercomputers. The research community gains access to these powerful high-performance computing systems through the Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program, which is jointly managed by the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) at Argonne National Laboratory and the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The 64-page report, INCITE in Review, is available at

“Whether it’s gaining a better understanding of the universe or engineering solutions for a growing, energy-hungry populace, the investigations enabled by INCITE are making the world a smarter, more sustainable place,” James J. Hack, director of the National Center for Computational Sciences, which houses the OLCF, Michael E. Papka, director of the ALCF, and Julia C. White, INCITE program manager, wrote in the report’s introduction. “We are proud to tell the story of INCITE’s role to date in advancing the frontiers of human knowledge for the benefit of all.”

The report highlights 22 select projects, including simulations to make personalized genomics quick and affordable; explore corrosion in building materials; model carbon sequestration underground; and develop next-generation catalysts, semiconductors, and nuclear reactors for fission and fusion. Some projects elucidate biomass conversion for energy production and supercapacitors for energy storage, whereas others contribute to a deeper understanding of phenomena from earthquakes to supernovas.

Since 2003 INCITE has promoted transformational advances in science and technology through large allocations of computer time, supporting resources, and data storage. From modeling hurricanes that put people and property at risk to simulating combustion instabilities in power plant turbines and vehicle engines, INCITE projects aim to accelerate breakthroughs in fields in which major advancements would not be probable or even possible without supercomputing.

With a modest start by today’s standards, in 2004 three INCITE projects received a total of nearly 5 million processor hours from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center. Since 2008 the program has focused on leadership computing facilities, from which researchers can obtain the largest single-award time allocations available on powerful computing systems, including the OLCF’s Cray XT5 (Jaguar) with 224,256 processing cores yielding a peak performance of 2.33 thousand trillion calculations each second and the ALCF’s IBM Blue Gene/P (Intrepid) with 163,840 processing cores yielding a peak performance of 557 trillion calculations per second.

For the 2011 calendar year, 57 INCITE awardees received a total of 1.7 billion processor hours. The allocations averaged 27 million hours, with one project receiving more than 110 million hours. From INCITE’s inception through the end of 2011, researchers from academia, government laboratories, and industry will have been allotted more than 4.5 billion processor hours to speed innovations and discoveries.—by Dawn Levy