Petascale Day celebrates computing in the quadrillions

As Blue Waters, a supercomputer on campus able to calculate in the quadrillions, undergoes final testing, Petascale Day was held on Monday to help the public put those number into perspective.

The event was put on by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications which operates Blue Waters, and planned for Oct. 15 because 1 quadrillion equals 10 to the 15th power.

The NCSA held events throughout the day at its building to educate the campus community about a petascale computer’s capabilities.

Events included film screenings, lectures and demonstrations.

The NCSA also tweeted throughout the day, many times defining a quadrillion through various comparisons to help the public understand the size of the number.

One main event was a tour of the National Petascale Computing Facility where members of the public could receive information about the computer.

“Our tours of Blue Waters help put in perspective just how grand the supercomputer is, how large it is (and) how it feels to be around it,” said NCSA spokesperson Liz Murray. “There’s definitely an energy and a presence to it.”

Murray said the supercomputer is still in testing phases, so researchers have not had full access to it yet.

Research scientist Brian Jewett works in the University’s atmospheric science department and will use the supercomputer once it’s ready. He said Blue Waters is going to make detailed analysis possible, and “big data,” from Blue Waters will help him better explain tornado behavior and improve tornado forecasting.

“We are trying to take conditions associated with a long-lived tornado ... and we’re going to try to run it at ten times the resolution than we ever have before,” Jewett said in a lecture he gave for Petascale Day. “When you have higher resolution, you can actually capture those small scale features (of tornados).”

Other Petascale Day events included film screenings and 3-D scientific visualizations by NCSA’s Advanced Visualization Laboratory, which aids researchers with simulations and helps them examine data with more detail.

Maddie can be reached at

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