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2016 in review: For the history books

2016 was an exciting year for high-performance computing. Without exaggeration, we can say our understanding of the world has been fundamentally altered, thanks in no small part to the capabilities granted by our investment in a national cyberinfrastructure.

Here's a look at the big news stories Science Node covered in 2016.


Over 100 years ago, Albert Einstein predicted gravitational waves in his general theory of relativity. This past year, scientists with the LIGO scientific collaboration used two advanced gravitational wave detectors to confirm Einstein’s theory.

LIGO makes history. On September 14, 2015, Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime. This video narrative tells the story of the science behind that important detection. Courtesy Caltech.

The Open Science Grid (OSG) and Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) used their supercomputing resources to ensure LIGO heard gravitational wave signals from space.

Thanks to the efforts of OSG and XSEDE, a famous, albeit unvalidated, scientific theory was finally confirmed.

Planet 9

A supercomputer has simulated 4 billion years of solar system evolution to make a surprising research find. Scientists Konstantin Batygin and Michael Brown used theoretical prediction to discover Planet 9, a previously unseen planet in our solar system. 

Located roughly 1000 astronomical units (AU) away from the sun, Planet 9 completes one revolution in about 20,000 years.

There goes the neighborhood. Planet 9 is predicted by supercomputer simulations of 4 billion years of solar system evolution. Courtesy California Institute of Technology.

The Fram supercomputer at the California Institute of Technology was instrumental in the find.

Batygin used the supercomputer over a period of four months to simulate the evolution of our solar system.

Planet 9 is in good company — Neptune was also uncovered through theoretical prediction in the mid-1840s.

Virtual reality

2016 also brought new opportunities for the power of virtual reality to tell stories. Manufacturers project that they will have shipped 12.2 million head-mounted displays (HMDs) this year, indicating great demand for virtual reality technology.

Inside-the-box thinking. The immersive virtual reality experience "6x9" was featured at the recent SXSL. It was chosen by the Obama administration because of its ability to motivate an audience toward positive social change. (Best viewed through a VR browser.) Courtesy the Guardian.

President Obama hosted the South by South Lawn (SXSL) festival in October. At this festival, creative thinkers and entrepreneurs responded to President Obama’s call to use their talents to meet the challenges facing society.

The Guardian demonstrated virtual reality’s potential for social change with “6x9,” a simulation of what it’s like to be placed in solitary confinement. The immersive abilities of virtual reality make it a powerful force for storytelling and social impact.

2016 election

A wrap-up of the year’s top stories wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the 2016 US presidential election. President-elect Donald Trump’s victory was a surprise to many, but not to the data science team at Cambridge Analytica (CA).

Democratic prism. This interactive map offers a 3D view of voter preference. For full screen version, see here. Courtesy Max Galka and Mark Kearney. 

CA modeled a different electorate than other polling sites, predicting that Trump had a realistic path to victory through the Rust Belt.

CA built modeling software using data sources like voter records, commercial and campaign data, and weekly surveys to model potential Trump voters in key battleground states.

Without CA’s work, there might have been a different person giving a victory speech on election night.


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