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Thursday, May 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Cray picked for computer team

By Duncan Mansfield
The Associated Press

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Promising a boost to science and a boon to the economy, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory was selected yesterday to build the fastest civilian research computer in the world in a partnership that includes Seattle-based supercomputer maker Cray.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced in Washington that the Oak Ridge lab and its computer-development partners — Cray, IBM and Silicon Graphics — will receive $25 million to begin to build the supercomputer.

Within five years, the lab hopes to achieve a computer with a sustained speed of 50 trillion calculations per second (or 50 teraflops), with a peak capacity of more than 250 trillion calculations per second.

In an aggressive buildup from its present capacity, the lab's computers could surpass the current world leader, Japan's 40-teraflop Earth Simulator, within a year, lab Director Jeff Wadsworth said.

"It is not computing for computing sake," he said in an interview. "In the end, the product of this computer is technology breakthroughs."

New medicines, new energy sources, new materials and new climate modeling that could lead to cleaner air are some of the things expected from this machine. Boeing and Dow Chemical are among the first companies expected to tap the supercomputer.

"You can do completely different things with this scale computing," Wadsworth said, including testing theories through computer simulations before time-consuming and expensive, real-world trials and experiments.

Supercomputers, he said, could become the "third leg of science."

The Oak Ridge lab, located about 20 miles west of Knoxville, laid the groundwork to bid on the supercomputer by recently completing a 170,000-square-foot Center for Computational Sciences building to house it.

Thomas Zacharia, the lab's associate director for computing, predicted the National Leadership Computing Facility, as the Oak Ridge project will be called, "will boost scientific computation to a scale that challenges the threshold of human comprehension ... (and) usher in a new era of scientific discovery."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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