Fall 2014

Super Computer is Fast and Green

Math Professor Ken Owens and his students will use the computer to study nuclear fusion.

HUMBOLDT STATE STUDENTS are building the university’s second supercomputer—a highly powerful machine that will support hands-on research in a variety of disciplines.

At 115 trillion calculations per second, the computer is approximately 50,000 times faster than a standard laptop and performs 20 billion calculations per watt, making it highly energy efficient. It was funded through the Humboldt Loyalty Fund, which supports things like lab improvements, technology upgrades, special projects, and student travel to academic conferences through family and alumni gifts.

Super computers are notoriously pricey to operate, due to the large amount of electricity needed to power and cool them. HSU’s computer uses a water cooling system—water is piped through the computer to prevent overheating—the same technology used by some of the greenest supercomputers in the world, says Mathematics Professor Ken Owens.

For the past several years, Owens, Mathematics faculty member Tim Lauck and a team of students have been using the university’s existing supercomputer to research nuclear fusion—the process by which the sun creates energy. With its highly powerful processing speed, the new computer will allow them to work on larger amounts of data and tackle more complex equations.

“It will allow us to do parallel computing, which in this case, means we’ll be able to examine many fusion reactions concurrently,” Owens says. Parallel computing allows researchers to break larger problems into smaller chunks, so that many calculations can be carried out simultaneously.

Owens and his students will be contributing to a worldwide effort on how to generate clean energy from nuclear fusion. “By making supercomputer simulations of burning plasma, we’re hoping to provide some insight to a growing body of research,” Owens says.