Making History: Jay Boisseau
The weather report you checked before going outside, the car you drove to work, the flu shot that protected you last winter — all of these were, at least in part, designed, improved, or predicted by a supercomputer.
Stampede, the newest supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), comprises 182 racks holding more than 500,000 interconnected computer processors. You hear it before you see it — a roar like a factory in full production. But instead of cars or washing machines, this factory produces scientific knowledge.
TACC director Jay Boisseau, PhD, and his staff designed, built, and deployed the behemoth, working closely with Dell and Intel engineers and UT researchers. As with each of its advanced computing technologies and tools, TACC went the extra mile to ensure that its latest supercomputer would be accessible and maximally effective to those who use it.
“Stampede has been designed to support a large, diverse research community,” says Boisseau.
A ‘computational microscope’
Simulations and models increasingly complement theory and experimentation, allowing researchers to explore phenomena that cannot be captured via observation or conventional lab experiments. Supercomputers help scholars mine massive databases of information for digital needles-in-haystacks that otherwise would go unnoticed, such as subtle changes in DNA.
Stampede is one of the most advanced scientific research instruments in the world, and the nation’s most powerful computer system dedicated to academic research. But the best thing about it — like all of the systems and software TACC identifies, evaluates, deploys, and supports — is how it enables scientists to tackle areas of research that until now were deemed impossibly challenging.
Researchers can solve scientific problems that humans alone might find insurmountable — the kind that help predict where a hurricane will make landfall, how a new drug will interact with its target, or what mutations in our genetic code make us prone to developing certain diseases.
As a “computational microscope” that allows scientists to explore the inner dynamics of a cell better than with the best imaging devices, identify tumors more accurately, and discover new medicines faster and less expensively, Stampede is a remarkable machine. But it’s only as powerful as the scientists who use it — top researchers in fields from mechanical engineering to neuroscience.
“We’re never done,” Boisseau says. “Not until every hard science problem that matters to society is solved, from disease to food shortage to climate change. And that’s never going to happen.”
Adapted from articles by Aaron Dubrow and Tim Taliaferro — see links below.
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