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Stampede supercomputer skyrocketed science

Speed read
  • Supercomputer enabled advancements in fields from biology to seismology
  • Billions of computing hours were recorded on the system over five years
  • Stampede was consistently ranked among the world’s top supercomputers

During its five years of operations, the Stampede supercomputer completed more than eight million successful computing jobs and clocked over three billion core hours of computation. It was funded by a $51.5 million award to The University of Texas at Austin in 2011 for the Texas Advanced Computing Center to deploy and support Stampede, which included a hardware upgrade in 2016.

Stampede was one of the most powerful and significant systems for open science research in the US over the last five years. TACC takes a look back at the life of an incredible machine, and the people who made it possible. Courtesy TACC.

More than 11,000 researchers have used Stampede directly on over 3,000 projects in the open science community. And tens of thousands of additional researchers accessed Stampede through scientific gateways such as the Galaxy Community Hub and DesignSafe.

Through its five-year life cycle Stampede remained the most powerful, comprehensive system allocated to users of the eXtreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE). And for three and a half years, the Top500 organization ranked Stampede in the world's top 10 most powerful computing systems. It remained in the top 20 in 2017, its last year of operation.

Gravitational Waves

The discovery of gravitational waves by the NSF-funded Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in 2015 is one of the most important projects that utilized Stampede. Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space-time created by black hole collisions.

LIGO researchers worked with TACC experts to improve their software. Then the researchers used about seven million core hours on Stampede to help analyze LIGO data. "The collaboration with TACC computing experts and the computing cycles provided by Stampede both supported the first direct detection of gravitational waves," says Stuart Anderson, a research manager for LIGO based at the California Institute of Technology.

Hurricane Forecasts

Getting the track and intensity right for a hurricane could make the difference between life and death for those near the coast. Penn State University researcher Fuqing Zhang has produced some of the most accurately predictive hurricane intensity forecasts in the world. Zhang used over 22 million core hours on Stampede to simulate the myriad forces inside hurricanes.

"We developed techniques that enable better prediction and understanding of severe weather, including hurricanes and severe weather which certainly have profound significance to society," Zhang says.

Fundamental Forces

Strange things make our physical reality, according to University of California Santa Barbara physicist Robert Sugar.

His group, the Multiple Instruction, Multiple Data Lattice Computation Group (MILC), has used over 26 million core hours on Stampede to probe the forces that hold together quarks, the building blocks of matter. "These studies can only be carried out by very large-scale numerical simulations," Sugar says.

<strong>Volker Bromm</strong> found evidence of a direct-collapse black hole based on Stampede simulations. The molecular gas in space flows along filaments of dark matter that form a cosmic web connecting structures in the early universe. The first galaxies formed at the intersection of these dark matter filaments. Courtesy UT Austin; TACC.

Cosmic Complexity

The universe formed the first stars relatively shortly after the Big Bang. Stampede simulations helped UT Austin astronomer Volker Bromm find answers to how the first stars formed and how they shaped the transition to the stars we see today.

"Stampede has enabled my group to simulate how the first stars and galaxies transformed the early universe from its simple initial state into one of ever-increasing complexity," Bromm says.

Tornado Forecasts

Stampede helped scientists understand and predict tornados – whether or not they form and where they will go, according to the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms (CAPS) at the University of Oklahoma (OU). "The Stampede supercomputer is our most critical tool," says CAPS director Ming Xue, a professor of meteorology at OU. Xue's group used 41 million core hours on Stampede to simulate tornados.

DNA contact

DNA strands use electrostatic attraction or repulsion to fold together or come apart. This property enables cells to store genetic information, replicate and repair that information, and regulate how that information is expressed. Computational physicist Aleksei Aksimentiev of the University of Illinois at Urbana−Champaign used 24 million core hours on Stampede to elucidate the mysteries of DNA-DNA interactions.

"When Stampede first came online, it was a game changer. Simulations that used to take more than a month could be done in less than a week," Aksimentiev says.

<strong>Running with the pack.</strong> Stampede covered a lot of ground during its five-year run. The Texas Advanced Computing Center would like to acknowledge the US National Science Foundation, the University of Texas at Austin, Dell Inc., Intel Corporation, Mellanox Technologies, Clemson University, Cornell University, The Ohio State University, the University of Texas at El Paso, Indiana University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (also at the University of Texas at Austin). Courtesy TACC.

Crowded Cells

Biochemist Michael Feig of Michigan State University used 28 million core hours on Stampede to simulate complex interactions inside of cells and help make new discoveries.

"We built a model of a bacterial cytoplasm for the first time and discovered how proteins may behave differently in such environments," Feig says.

Blood Flow

Modeling the physics of slow moving fluids has many real-world applications such as in geophysical flows from mantle convection, oil flow through rocks, and blood flow in capillaries. Highly-efficient simulation tools have been created using the Stampede supercomputer for these 'Stokes flows' by professor George Biros of the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at UT Austin.

"TACC helped us succeed by providing the best libraries to link to, the best ways to compile, and the best way to optimize our code by having TACC computational scientists work with us," Biros says.

Whole Mantle Convection

Scientists took a solid step towards better understanding the dynamics in Earth's deep interior, a main driver for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Johann Rudi of ICES co-authored a study using Stampede that won the 2015 Gordon Bell Prize for computing. It modeled the flow of rock thousands of kilometers deep in the mantle of the whole Earth.

"Mainly, my research was done on the Stampede supercomputer at TACC. The help that I got from TACC experts was very valuable to me," says Rudi. 

Read the original Texas Advanced Computing Center article here.

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