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New Supercomputer Ready to Tackle Earth's Problems

Chinook – a $21.4 million supercomputer built by HP - has been commissioned for use by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Department of Energy. It's primed to take on problems in areas such as climate science and hydrogen storage.

Housed at DOE's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) on the PNNL campus, Chinook can perform more than 160 trillion calculations per second, ranking it in the top 40 fastest computers in the world. The Office of Biological and Environmental Research within DOE's Office of Science funded EMSL's supercomputer upgrade.

Scientists all over the world can use Chinook, competing for time through a peer review process. Users generally conduct research that supports DOE's missions in energy, the environment, or national security.

“This new supercomputer will allow scientists to develop a molecular-level understanding of the complex biological, chemical, and physical processes that underlie the environmental and energy challenges facing DOE and the nation," said Anna Palmisano, DOE associate director for Biological and Environmental Research.

Chinook's designers tailored its architecture to handle scientific problems whose complexity require more than just power or speed. Climate scientists who are trying to understand the tiniest particles in the atmosphere, or chemists watching how atoms tug at each other in a molecule, need a different kind of supercomputer than physicists studying questions like the birth of the universe.


 

Chinook's main job is to run NWChem - a computational chemistry program that allows researchers to simulate and predict the chemistry within and between molecules - but a variety of programs can run on the supercomputer. Scientists are using Chinook to tackle problems such as gas hydrates, bacterial transformers, and green plastics.

In the case of gas hydrates, pockets of fuels such as methane are often found deep under the sea, trapped in a lattice of water molecules. Researchers hope to understand these gas hydrates both as a fuel source and as a way to store fuels, and are using Chinook to help understand how water molecules form stable clusters.

Bacterial transformers live and grow in the soil, and have a taste for metals – a talent that can be used to clean up toxic substances in contaminated ground. Researchers use Chinook to understand the inner workings of these bacteria and how they form communities in order to take advantage of their clean-up skills.

Industrial chemists can turn propane gas into plastics and generate only water as a byproduct, with the help of catalysts. Chinook furthering green plastics by helping scientists develop a new catalytic material, based on small clusters of platinum atoms, that does this at least 40 times more efficiently than older materials.

Chinook has 4620 Quad-core processors built into 2310 nodes, and the Quad-cores give each node the equivalent of eight processor-cores and 32 gigabytes of memory.

Researchers who want to use Chinook write proposals to EMSL, and compete for time annually.

(PNNL)