Berkeley Lab scientists to use supercomputer for research on genome, clean energy

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APRIL 16, 2013

Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory currently have access to a new supercomputer that may allow new breakthroughs in biological and environmental science.

The supercomputer, called Edison, will be used to complete complex computations that are necessary for research on materials technology, biological systems like the human genome and cleaner renewable energy sources.

According to Jon Bashor, communications manager for Berkeley lab’s Computing Sciences organization, researchers are hoping to guide the computer to artificially replicate photosynthesis in plants, an achievement that would revolutionize the green energy sector and shift attention away from inefficient solar power.

“We use the computers to simulate these processes,” Bashor said. “If we can understand the chemistry that the plant carries out to do photosynthesis and we can mimic that, we would have very efficient energy sources.”

The new supercomputer will also be used to study regional climates and their future changes in much higher detail than before. Climates vary extensively between regions that are close to each other, and Edison has the ability to pinpoint extremely small regions of the world to produce more accurate data about the climate patterns in different areas.

This extensive segmentation will allow simulations of climate patterns and future climate changes to be more accurate and useful to scientists, according to David H. Bailey, a senior scientist in the Computational Research Division of the Berkeley lab.

“If we can use a supercomputer to model the Earth’s climate for the next 100 years and do it in a couple of weeks, then we have some good knowledge to work from,” Bashor said. “Climate changes a lot, and understanding it fully is a very complicated process.”

Researchers have access to Edison through the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), a center at Berkeley lab funded by the U.S.Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The center is currently testing only a portion of Edison and will receive access to the rest of it during the summer. NERSC will then decide whether to permanently install the computer.

In its complete form, Edison has 10,000 processor cores and can run two quadrillion arithmetic operations per second, twice as many as the center’s current supercomputer, Hopper.

“When it’s installed, I’m not sure if (Edison) will make the top 10, but it will almost certainly make the top 20 (supercomputers) in the world,” Bailey said. “It’s certainly one of a very small number of computers worldwide that can perform at this level.”

More than 4,500 researchers from universities and laboratories across the country are currently utilizing Edison’s vast capabilities.

“This has led to an enormous number of scientific discoveries,” said Kathy Yelick, a campus professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences. “I think this type of capability in the hands of scientists all around the country is really important to the next generation of science challenges that we’re seeing.”

Contact Claire Chiara at 


APRIL 16, 2013

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