Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

3 Ways Supercomputers are Impacting your Life Today

May 9, 2017

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You may have heard a lot of talk about the emerging field of supercomputing - but what exactly is it and how can this technology make an impact in your daily life?

We’re living in an era with unprecedented amounts of data at our fingertips and supercomputers play a crucial role in helping us make sense of it all. In recent years, they have been used to model scenarios for tackling big challenges that would be almost impossible otherwise. They change how our leading scientists forecast the weather, study the evolution of the universe, and determine optimal strategies for deploying and managing energy.

One of our country’s most important strategic assets is our network of 17 national laboratories, which have helped establish the United States as a leader in science and engineering. The labs are home to some of the most sophisticated supercomputing capabilities in the world – including 32 of the 500 fastest supercomputers on Earth.

You may have not had the chance to see a supercomputer up close yourself, but this technology is likely already making an impact on your daily life. Here are just a few examples:

A Better Weather Forecast

We’ve all had the unpleasant experience of being caught off-guard by an unexpected cold front or heat wave. Fortunately, supercomputers hold the potential to help us improve the accuracy of our weather predictions, as well as the potential to help improve how we harness our diverse energy resources.

A research team led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently set out to develop prediction models that can more accurately forecast wind predictions in complex terrains. They used Mira, a supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory.  

Mira allows the team to increase the visual resolution and improve physical representations to more accurately replicate wind features in national forecast models. The end goal of the project is to provide better estimates of wind levels to utilities, helping to lower the costs of wind power and increase reliability. 

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Building More Fuel Efficient Car Engines

Most of us would love to save money at the pumps, especially those of us who commute long distances. Improving the efficiency of existing combustion engines is one way supercomputers can help ease the strain on our wallets.

Researchers have used Titan, a supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that has been ranked as one of the most powerful in the world, to better understand the inner workings of the combustion engine – and how it can be used to harness alternative types of fuel, including bioenergy.

Their work studies the impact of combustion processes on a range of fuels and provides insights that can shape the design of future high-efficiency fuel systems. 

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Fighting Disease

Heart disease ranks among the most prevalent and devastating diseases affecting Americans. The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) supercomputers have played a key role in efforts to accelerate research with the potential to better understand how the heart responds to various treatments.

The Sequoia supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is traditionally used to calculate scenarios involving the performance of nuclear weapons. But a team of laboratory researchers highlighted the versatility of supercomputing capabilities by using the same technology to create the world’s most detailed simulation to date of the human heart.

The researchers and a team of colleagues from IBM developed a code called Cardioid, which provides an unprecedented depth of detail on the inner workings of the heart through a three-dimensional discrete model. The simulation provides a more complete understanding of how the organ responds to various treatments. These insights could help shape the future of how doctors tackle this disease.

Previous versions of the simulation had required a 45 minute time-span to model a single heartbeat. Thanks to Sequoia’s capabilities, researchers have been able to simulate thousands of heartbeats in just over an hour, dramatically speeding up their research.

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What’s Next?

DOE and the national labs have prioritized opening its doors and supercomputing capabilities to partners from industry and academia to ensure that these investments are making a real-world impact on today’s challenges.

One example is the High Performance Computing for Manufacturing (HPC4Mfg) program, which provides manufacturers world-class supercomputers access, along with science and technology expertise. Through HPC4Mfg, manufacturers collaborate with experts at Lawrence Livermore, Lawrence Berkeley, and Oak Ridge national laboratories to apply advanced modeling, simulation, and data analysis to manufacturing processes. These partnerships also help the national labs to push the limits of their expertise and supercomputing capabilities with new challenges.

With industry and the national laboratories working together, there are few boundaries on what supercomputers can help our society achieve.