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Thursday, May 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:45 A.M.
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Cray to take part in building fastest civilian research computer

By Duncan Mansfield
The Associated Press

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Oak Ridge National Laboratory was selected today to build the fastest civilian research computer in the world.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced in Washington that the Oak Ridge lab and its computer development partners — Seattle-based Cray, IBM and Silicon Graphics — will receive $25 million to begin to build the supercomputer.

Within five years, the lab hopes to achieve a computer with a sustained speed of 50 trillion calculations per second (or 50 teraflops), with a peak capacity of more than 250 trillion calculations per second.

In an aggressive buildup from its present capacity, the lab's computers could surpass the current world leader, Japan's 40-teraflop Earth Simulator, within a year, lab Director Jeff Wadsworth said.

"It is not computing for computing sake," he said. "In the end, the product of this computer is technology breakthroughs."

New medicines, new energy sources, new materials and new climate modeling that could lead to cleaner air are some of things expected from the machine.

"You can do completely different things with this scale computing," Wadsworth said, including testing theories through computer simulations before time-consuming and expensive real-world trials and experiments.

Supercomputers, he said, could become the "third leg of science."

"High-end computing is one of the critical fields in which our nation needs to be the world's leader," said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. "Secretary Abraham's announcement will help put Oak Ridge National Laboratory and our nation back at the forefront of science."

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the supercomputer is "vital to our continued scientific advancement" and would make "the United States more competitive globally."

Thomas Zacharia, the lab's associate director for computing, predicted the National Leadership Computing Facility, as the Oak Ridge project will be called, "will boost scientific computation to a scale that challenges the threshold of human comprehension ... (and) usher in a new era of scientific discovery."

Boeing and Dow Chemical are among the first industries expected to tap the supercomputer. Universities expressing interest include Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, North Carolina State and Vanderbilt.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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