what is a supercomputer?

Supercomputers, which differ from ordinary computers due to their ability to process large amounts of data, play a key role in solving complex scientific problems. They are made up of interconnected nodes and require extensive infrastructure and expertise to operate, as evidenced by facilities such as Argonne National Laboratory, which uses its supercomputers for cutting-edge research.

What is a supercomputer?

There are computers. And then there is exceptionalComputers.

Most home and business computers are powerful enough to perform tasks such as running errands and conducting business. You can even increase the power of certain components for an amazing gaming experience.

But you are unlikely to solve puzzles about the universe or understand the inner workings of a cluster.
Computer science experts Christopher Knight and Kevin Brown provide an overview of supercomputers. These powerful machines can perform billions of calculations per second to help scientists solve some of the world's most pressing challenges. Advances in climate science, human health, and clean energy occur when hardworking researchers, technicians, and engineers put supercomputers to work.

Supercomputers are often used to simulate experiments that may be too expensive, dangerous, or even impossible to perform in real life. For example, researchers use simulations to understand how stars explode or how fuel is injected into an engine.

A supercomputer is made up of thousands of small computers called nodes. Each node is equipped with its own memory and a number of processors, the bits that do all the calculations.

Another key to a powerful supercomputer system is an incredibly fast network, the communications hub that connects all those microcomputers. Now, instead of working as separate units, they can work as one, managing millions of tasks to quickly solve complex problems.

Aurora Supercomputer DOE Argonne Leadership Computing Facility

Supercomputers like the Department of Energy's Aurora at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility will help make artificial intelligence ever more powerful. Credit: Argonne Leadership IT Facility

But it's not just the technological marvels that make supercomputers special. An enormous amount of expertise and infrastructure is required to operate these massive machines and make them available to scientists, who remotely harness the power of supercomputers to conduct their computational experiments.

System administrators ensure that supercomputer hardware is functional and software is up-to-date. In-house computer scientists work with supercomputer users around the world to ensure their codes run smoothly and their simulations help advance their scientific explorations. Technical support specialists are on standby to help users resolve any issues they encounter while working on a supercomputer installation.

Argonne Aurora Supercomputer

Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

The world's most powerful supercomputers, such as those run by the US Department of Energy, require specialized facilities, called data centers, to meet their space, power and cooling needs. For example, Argonne National Laboratory's next supercomputer, Aurora, will occupy the area of ​​two NBA basketball courts, consume the same amount of energy as thousands of homes, and be cooled by a complex system containing 44,000 gallons of ice water.

Based at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, a DOE Office of Science user facility, the lab has a long history of building and using supercomputers to solve some of the world's most pressing problems. And Argonne continues to push the boundaries of technology and discovery. Aurora will help scientists advance our understanding of everything from climate change on Earth to improving solar cell materials to the structure of the human brain.

Solving big, complex problems requires lots of smart people and big, amazing machines. Argonne supercomputers are ready to rise to the challenge!

What is a supercomputer infographic

Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

What is a supercomputer?

A complex machine that helps scientists make huge discoveries.

Imagine a million laptops computing together in perfect harmony and you're approaching the power of a supercomputer. Researchers need all that computing power to answer some of the world's biggest questions about human health, climate change, energy, and even the origins of the universe! When you want to study something that's impossible to explore in the lab, like an exploding star or a rapidly forming hurricane, your computer needs to be great.

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