Two high schoolers break down how the world’s fastest supercomputer works

Cade Brown and Thomas Hill, high school seniors from L&N Stem Academy in Knoxville, spent the summer of 2018 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory developing a small-scale demonstration unit of the Summit supercomputer called Simple Summit.

Two high school seniors from L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville spent the summer of 2018 at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) developing Simple Summit, a small-scale demonstration unit of the world’s fastest supercomputer: the IBM AC922 Summit supercomputer.

Cade Brown and Thomas Hill worked with Jim Rogers, director of computing and facilities at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF), a DOE Office of Science User Facility located at ORNL, to develop the demonstration unit.

Simple Summit demonstrates the basic principles behind parallel computing where an application can be distributed across multiple nodes to finish more quickly. The large Summit system boasts 4,608 GPU-accelerated nodes, each with 2 CPUs and 6 GPUs. Brown and Hill developed the small Simple Summit unit with 8 nodes, each with 1 CPU and 1 GPU. These systems demonstrate a similar architectural principle, where a GPU-accelerated node can complete work 5–10 times faster than a node with just the CPU can complete the same amount of work.

Cade Brown and Thomas Hill shown with Simple Summit.

The software application that Brown and Hill ran on Simple Summit demonstrated the building of fractals, the visual representation of a complex mathematical function. Fractals are often used in scientific studies, including the study of chemical reactions, meteorology, and data compression. Because of their complexity, fractals are difficult to render and display in real time. However, with distributed GPU computing, Simple Summit is optimized to make complex computations like this truly simple.

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