Source: NBC NewsEdd Gent | 

Image: Summit supercomputer

ORNL’s Summit supercomputer is 10 times faster than the nation’s previous top computer. Carlos Jones / ORNL

From ending the opioid epidemic to making fusion power possible, ‘Summit’ may help researchers meet all sorts of goals.

Scientists have high hopes for the world’s fastest computer, which is now up and running at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee after its June 8 launch.

A $200-million, water-cooled monster that covers an area the size of two tennis courts, the computer, dubbed “Summit,” has been clocked at handling 200 quadrillion calculations a second (or 200 petaflops). That’s more than twice as fast as the previous record-holder, China’s 93-petaflop Sunway TaihuLight, and so fast that it would take every person on Earth doing one calculation a second for 305 days to do what Summit can do in a single second.
Summit gives the U.S. bragging rights. More important, it gives scientists a new tool to conduct research that is all but impossible to do with other supercomputers.

“My hopes are that we are able to attract the world’s best scientists to work on their dream problems,” says Jack Wells, director of science at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility. “To open up venues people thought were not possible in this time frame, to solve problems that people thought were 20 years away in the next five years.”

Here are five ways Summit could change the world:

PREDICTING OPIOID ADDICTION

Roughly 10 percent of people who take an opioid painkiller slip into addiction, says Dan Jacobson, a computational biologist at the laboratory. “That screams genetics to us — otherwise everybody would get addicted,” he says. He and his team plan to use Summit to compare the genetic profiles of 600,000 individuals — in this case U.S. military veterans — against clinical records showing whether they were prescribed opioids and if they became addicted.

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