In recent decades, there has been substantial growth in the use of modeling, simulation, and artificial intelligence by scientists and engineers to devise solutions for complex problems and to push innovation forward. High-performance computing (HPC) – the most powerful and largest scale computing systems -- enables researchers to study systems that would otherwise be impractical, or impossible, to investigate in the real world due to their complexity or the danger they pose.

For over half a century, America has led the world in HPC, thanks to sustained federal government investments in research and the development and regular deployment of new systems, as well as strong partnerships with U.S. computing vendors and researchers. Within the federal government, the Department of Energy (DOE) leads the effort of pushing the boundary of what is possible with the nation’s fastest and most capable supercomputers housed at the DOE National Laboratories.

The newly developed Frontier Supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) debuted in 2022 as the Nation’s first exascale computer – able to compute over one quintillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000) floating point operations per second. The DOE owns four of the top ten fastest supercomputers in the world according to the June 2022 Top500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers: Frontier ranks at number one; Summit, also at ORNL, at four; Sierra at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory at five; and Perlmutter at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at seven. 

It is not just hardware that defines American leadership. U.S. leadership also depends critically on major ongoing efforts in key fields of research, including applied mathematics and computer science, advanced lithography, and nanoscale materials science—areas where DOE Office of Science research programs excel. The strong synergy between hardware development, on the one hand, and software and application development, on the other, has been a defining strength of the U.S. approach—and has transformed HPC over the years into an ever more capable tool of both science and industry.

To support researchers in the transition to the age of exascale computing, the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program within the DOE Office of Science partnered with the Advanced Simulation and Computing program within the National Nuclear Security Administration to devise and implement the Exascale Computing Project (ECP). Supporting over 1,000 researchers across the nation, ECP is focused on integration of application, hardware, and software research and development needed to effectively use an exascale system.

America has reaped enormous benefits from this leadership position. HPC has been a major factor in accelerating U.S. scientific and engineering progress. It has enabled the advancement of climate modeling leading us to better understand our impact on climate. It has enabled development of advanced manufacturing techniques and rapid prototyping. And it has ensured national security through stewardship of the nation’s nuclear stockpile in the absence of testing. Today, however, America’s leadership in HPC is under challenge as never before, as nations in Asia and Europe invest heavily in HPC research and deploy new systems.

Entering the exascale-era represents a starting point for a new generation of computing. The DOE is committed to helping scientists and computing facilities prepare for this new generation and to pushing the boundaries of computing through exascale and beyond.