The world's fastest supercomputer called Jaguar, capable of quadrillion floating operations per second, has been housed at the Oak Ridge National Lab.
The blinding speed of Jaguar can be gauged by the fact that it just takes mere minutes to calculate what once took several months. Quadrillion is a figure in which one is followed by 15 zeroes or a million times billion).
Jaguar's superlative speed is matched by substantial memory that allows scientists to solve complex problems, sizeable disk space for storing massive amounts of data, and unmatched speed to read and write files.
Beginning as a 26-teraflop system in 2005, Oak Ridge embarked upon a three-year series of aggressive upgrades to make Jaguar, a Cray XT high-performance system, the world's most powerful computing system.
The Cray XT was upgraded to 119 teraflops in 2006 and 263 teraflops in 2007. In 2008, with approximately 182,000 processing cores, the new 1.64-petaflop system is more than 60 times larger than its original predecessor, said an Oak Ridge release.
In a matter of few days, Jaguar has already run scientific applications ranging from materials to combustion on the entire system, sustaining petaflops performance on multiple applications.
A 2008 report from the Department of Energy (DoE) Office of Science, America's largest funder of basic physical science programmes, said six of the top 10 recent scientific advancements used Jaguar to provide unprecedented insight into supernovas, combustion, fusion, superconductivity, dark matter and mathematics.
"This accomplishment is the culmination of our vision to regain leadership in high performance computing and harness its potential for scientific investigation," said Undersecretary for Science Raymond L Orbach.
"I am especially gratified because we make this machine available to the entire scientific community through an open and transparent process that has resulted in spectacular scientific results ranging from the human brain to the global climate to the origins of the Universe," he added.
Twice a year, the TOP500 list ranks powerful computing systems on their speed in running a benchmark programme called HPL (high-performance linpack).
In June 2007, Jaguar solved the largest HPL challenge ever - a matrix problem with nearly five trillion elements. The achievement highlights Jaguar's skill in balancing processor speed and system memory.
The DOE's Office of Science makes Jaguar available to scientists in academia, industry, and government to tackle the world's most complicated projects.
For example, INCITE projects have simulated enzymatic breakdown of cellulose to make production of biofuels commercially viable as well as coal gasification processes to help industry design near-zero-emission plants.
Combustion scientists have studied how fuel burns - important for fuel-efficient, low-emission engines. Computer models have helped physicists use radio waves to heat and control ionized fuel in a fusion reactor.
Similarly, engineers have designed materials to recover energy escaping from vehicle tailpipes. Simulation insights have enabled biologists to design new drugs to thwart Alzheimer's fibrils and engineer the workings of cellular ion channels to detoxify industrial wastes.