Why the U.S. Must Lead in Supercomputing

These challenges to U.S. leadership in supercomputing and chip design threaten the country’s economic future. Here are Steven E. Koonin’s (Undersecretary for Science, U.S. Department of Energy) thoughts on the matter.

Data_ChipChina officially claimed the world’s second-fastest computer earlier this month. China was in fifth place just six months ago – and is expected to have the world’s fastest machine by year end. While its systems currently rely on U.S. components, China is already constructing comparable machines using its domestic technology. These challenges to U.S. leadership in supercomputing and chip design threaten our country’s economic future.

Here’s why:

Supercomputers enable simulation – that is, the numerical computations to understand and predict the behavior of scientifically or technologically important systems – and therefore accelerate the pace of innovation. Simulation enables better and more rapid product design. Simulation has already allowed Cummins to build better diesel engines faster and less expensively, Goodyear to design safer tires much more quickly, Boeing to build more fuel-efficient aircraft, and Procter & Gamble to create better materials for home products. Simulation also accelerates the progress of technologies from laboratory to application. The United States must excel at such tasks to compete in a rapidly developing global economy.

Better computers allow better simulations and more confident predictions. The best machines today are 10,000 times faster than those of 15 years ago, and the techniques of simulation for science and national security have been refined to a high art. During that period, the United States has fielded an average of seven of the 10 fastest machines on each of the semiannual lists, and four of the seven on average have been Department of Energy machines. The department’s simulations give us confidence in the continued safety, security and effectiveness of an aging nuclear stockpile in the absence of nuclear testing.

Sustaining and more widely exploiting the U.S. competitive advantage in simulation requires concerted efforts toward two distinct goals. First, we must continue to push the limits of hardware and software. Second, to remain competitive globally, U.S. industry must better capture the innovation advantage that simulation offers. But bringing such innovation to large and small firms in diverse industries requires public-private partnerships to access simulation capabilities largely resident in the national laboratories and universities.

We in the Department of Energy have not been sitting idle. The Nuclear Energy Simulation Hub at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has just been established. This hub is a collaboration of national laboratories, industry and universities. Congress is now considering the president’s fiscal year 2011 request that will launch a significant public-private effort to develop models that will

accelerate the design of more fuel-efficient internal combustion engines.

Loss of U.S. leadership in supercomputing and simulation would have staggering consequences. Without deliberate and sustained investment, supercomputers manufactured abroad with ever-improving technologies developed elsewhere would soon dominate. And the simulation techniques invented in the United States will become other nations’ innovation advantages.

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Source: San Francisco Chronicle