Couldn't find element LayerAd

Error finding content

What is a Supercomputer? - Windows to the Universe

Shop Windows to the Universe

Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather by Mike Smith tells the story of our storm warning system. See our online store book collection.
This is a modern supercomputer. It is actually a cluster of numerous computers that are linked together to make them far more powerful.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of UCAR Digital Image Library

What is a Supercomputer?

Some scientific problems and processes are so complex that you need SUPERCOMPUTING power to tackle them! Just what is a supercomputer?

A supercomputer is a computer that is among the largest, fastest or most powerful of the computers available. As of this writing (late 2007) the fastest supercomputers operate on the order of more than 200 teraflops (that's computer lingo for trillions of operations per second!). And supercomputers are being improved all the time! Soon they will operate on the petaflop-scale (that's one quadrillion operations per second!).

Supercomputers are used to tackle problems that are very complex or problems that would be messy to deal with in the real physical world because they are dangerous, deal with incredibly small things are incredibly big ones! Here's some examples:

  • Climate researchers model Earth's current and predicted future climate using supercomputers.
  • Astronomers and space scientists use supercomputers to study the Sun and space weather.
  • Scientists use supercomputers to simulate how a tsunami would impact a coastline or a given city.
  • Supercomputers are used to simulate supernova explosions in space.
  • Supercomputers are used to test the aerodynamics of the latest military planes.
  • Supercomputers are being used to model how proteins fold and how that folding might affect people that have Alzheimer's Disease, Cystic Fibrosis and many kinds of cancer.
  • Supercomputers are used to model nuclear explosions, limiting the need for real nuclear testing.
Last modified January 19, 2010 by Randy Russell.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes fun classroom activities for you and your students. Issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist are also full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Using Computers for Science

In the last decades, computers have become a normal part of life. They are used to send e-mail, write a school report or look up recipes. They are used to keep track of the balance in your bank account....more

Modeling the Future of Climate Change

To figure out the future of climate change, scientists need tools to measure how Earth responds to change. Some of these tools are global climate models. Using models, scientists can better understand...more

Modeling Space Weather

Space weather is a very complex scientific field. Scientists who study space weather use computer models a lot. Space weather is a bit like weather on Earth in this way because weather forecasters on our...more

Tools for Math and Science

Some ideas are used throughout the sciences. They are "tools" that can help us solve puzzles in different fields of science. These "tools" include units of measurement, mathematical formulas, and graphs....more

Starting Points for Science

Some ideas are used in many, many places throughout science. We have grouped these "starting points for science" into three clusters: space, time, and matter. "Space" is the word we use for everything...more

What is a Supercomputer?

Some scientific problems and processes are so complex that you need SUPERCOMPUTING power to tackle them! Just what is a supercomputer? A supercomputer is a computer that is among the largest, fastest or...more

Universal Time

When it is noon where you live, it is midnight on the opposite side of the world. Usually when we think of time, we mean "the time of day where I live". If we say something happened at 9 AM, we mean it...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF