Summit Supercomputer Boldly Goes to Where the Stars Die

In 2018 the Leadership Computing Facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee installed Summit, the world’s most powerful supercomputer ever built, to help it break new ground in scientific research.

The US Department of Energy built Summit using nearly 28,000 NVIDIA Volta GPUs and high-speed NVLink interconnect technologies.

Capable of delivering a peak 200 petaflops of double-precision computing, it is ten times faster than its predecessor, Titan; the system that set ORNL on its pioneering path of GPU-accelerated computing.

Summit’s huge performance boost has already begun powering scientific research into areas ranging from fusion energy to advanced materials and human diseases.

Watch the video to hear Bronson Messer, the facility’s senior scientist, talk about one of the ORNL’s most ambitious projects: exploring the mystery of what happens when stars end their lives in supernova explosions.

“This is the birthplace of neutron stars, black holes and, most importantly, the place where we are born,” says Messer.

“Everything on the periodic table, the iron in our blood, the gold around your neck, is made in stars, or in their deaths. We want to understand how the elements are made and how they are disseminated in interstellar space.”

Building a computational simulation model of a supernova explosion involves a previously unmanageable panoply of calculations. “We can solve all those equations simultaneously in parallel on Summit’s GPUs,” says Messer.

Eventually, the team of scientists will compare the precise isotopic data they have obtained with Summit to observations others have gleaned from optical telescopes, gamma-ray telescopes in orbit and from meteorites carrying evidence of the solar system’s birth.

The aim is nothing less than knowing the Earth’s origins. “We want to understand where the story goes when we trace it back to the individual stellar explosions that we simulate on very large computers like Summit,” says Messer.

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