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Special Feature: Throwback Thursdays Celebrate Scientific Supercomputing

History and factoids to celebrate scientific supercomputing at DOE

September 5, 2013

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) was investing in scientific supercomputing long before the internet became the internet, and back when clouds only came in the white, fluffy variety.

As part of the DOE's celebration of scientific supercomputing, we present a sampling of historical photos and factoids shared each of the five Thursdays of this month via social media channels. To see a full resolution image, select any picture. Scroll through all the enlarged images using the right and left arrows that appear at the bottom of the photos.

A Cray-1 supercomputer arrives at the Magnetic Fusion Energy Computer Center in

A Cray-1 supercomputer arrives at the Magnetic Fusion Energy Computer Center in May 1978.

Did you know? A Cray-1 supercomputer at the Magnetic Fusion Energy Computer Center (now known as NERSC) was featured in Disney’s 1982 “Tron” movie?

This Cray-1 system performed about 138 million calculations per second (138 megaflops). The current flagship system at the center, now called NERSC, is a Cray XE6 named for computer scientist Grace Hopper. It performs more than a quadrillion calculations per second. That’s a billion times faster than the Cray-1!

1985: The DOE fields the world's first Cray-2.

1985: The world's first Cray-2.

Did you know? In 1985, the world’s fastest supercomputer was a Cray-2. Today, an iPad2 has as much computing power as the Cray-2 system.

In 1985, the Magnetic Fusion Energy Computer Center (now known as NERSC) staff pose with the world’s first Cray-2 system—it was the center’s flagship system. This computer contained 4 vector processors and had a peak performance of about 1.9 billion calculations per second (1.9 gigaflops).

Did You Know? Since NERSC moved to Berkeley Lab in 1996, the Department of Energy’s primary scientific computing facility has named all of its supercomputers after scientists.

T3E 900

T3E 900 namplateThis Cray T3E 900 was the first in a long line of scientific supercomputers named in honor of (who else?) scientists. With 512 processors, it was the U.S.'s largest supercomputer for unclassified research in 1997.

The naming tradition kicked-off in the late 1990s with NERSC’s flagship Cray T3E system—called MCurie in honor of Marie Curie, the French-Polish physicist and chemist known for her pioneering research on radioactivity. In November 1997, MCurie was the fifth most powerful supercomputer in the world. The system had 512 processors and a theoretical peak speed of 461 billion calculations per second (461 Gigaflops). At the time, it was the nation's biggest supercomputer for unclassified research.

Did you know? NERSC’s Seaborg supercomputer—an IBM RS/6000 SP—retired in 2007, after 9 years of 24/7 service.

Seaborg IBM supercomputer top view

In the late 1990s, supercomputers, like this IBM RS/600 SP, grew dramatically larger as they were designed around commodity processors and standard cabinets.

In 1999, the Department of Energy's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center began installing an IBM RS/6000 SP supercomputer—called Seaborg, in honor of Berkeley Lab Nobel Laureate Glenn Seaborg. Over the years, the system expanded to 6,656 processors. It performed about 10 trillion calculations per second (10 teraflops) at its peak. And by June 2003, Seaborg was the fourth fastest supercomputer in the world.

Did you know? NERSC’s Hopper supercomputer contains 153,216 compute cores, 217 terabytes of memory, 2 petabytes of disk storage—and a cat figurine for luck!

Photo of Hopper supercomputer and lucky cat placed inside

In April 2011, Yukiko Sekine (NERSC's former Energy Department program manager) presents Jonathan Carter (Deputy of Berkeley Lab Computing Sciences) with a Japanese "lucky cat" to place inside a cabinet of Hopper.

Hopper, named in honor of computer scientist Grace Murray Hopper, has a "lucky cat" figurine stashed in one cabinet. It's not the first lucky token to stand guard over NERSC's large, complex and well-used scientific supercomputers. Other systems, for reasons known only to NERSC staff, have been protected from ill fate by rubber chickens.


About Computing Sciences at Berkeley Lab

The Computing Sciences Area at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory provides the computing and networking resources and expertise critical to advancing Department of Energy Office of Science research missions: developing new energy sources, improving energy efficiency, developing new materials, and increasing our understanding of ourselves, our world, and our universe.

Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.