ORNL’s supercomputing program has grown from humble beginnings to deliver the most powerful system ever seen. On the way, the program has helped researchers deliver practical breakthroughs and new scientific knowledge in climate, materials, nuclear science, and a wide range of other disciplines.

Twenty-eight years ago, high-performance computing (HPC) in the United States stood at a crossroads. Established computing architectures were approaching their limits in performance and competitiveness, while the country’s need for computing power to solve challenging problems in science, energy, and national security continued to grow.

Out of this period of technological transition, a new force in scientific computing emerged in the unlikely region of East Tennessee, a force that continues to shape the HPC landscape today.

Since its founding as the ORNL Center for Computational Sciences (CCS) in May 1992, the center has consistently delivered supercomputers of unprecedented capability to the scientific community on behalf of the US Department of Energy (DOE). Scientists, in turn, have used these versatile systems to solve critical problems in areas as diverse as biology, advanced materials, climate, and nuclear physics.

From the beginning, the OLCF has contributed to a rapid evolution in scientific computing that has produced a millionfold increase in computing power. This rise has included the launch of the first teraflop system (IBM Power3 Eagle) for open science, the science community’s first petaflop system (Cray XT5 Jaguar), and three top-ranked machines on the TOP500 list, including the OLCF’s current leadership-class machine, Summit. The next chapter in the OLCF’s legacy is taking shape in the form of Frontier, which is slated to be the OLCF’s first exascale system in 2022.

Using OLCF systems, scientists have expanded the scale and scope of their research, solved complex problems in less time, and filled critical gaps in scientific knowledge. Today, simulation is considered on par with experiment and theory as an essential standard of modern science.

To learn more about OLCF’s purpose, history, and achievements, view:

  • An interactive timeline
  • A video on the history of the OLCF
  • The report Twenty-five Years of Leadership Science at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility
  • Photos from the 25th anniversary event in 2017