Regular computers, including smart phones, can do a lot of cool stuff, but some datasets are so big that normal PCs just don’t cut it. When that’s the case, many researchers turn to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, which is planning to construct a faster, stronger machine next year.
“People have described Bridges 1 as a Swiss Army knife,” said Nick Nystrom, chief scientist at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. "It can do everything pretty well."
Located on the ground floor of a mostly empty Monroeville office building, the current supercomputer, called Bridges 1, whirs loudly in metal cabinets. If this machine is the supercomputing equivalent of professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe, then Bridges 2 will be at least three Megan Rapinoes.
“Maybe 10…. depending on what you’re trying to do,” said Nystrom. “It will have a lot more processing power… new kinds of [computer processing units] that are both qualitatively stronger and faster. It will have more memory, it will have more persistent storage, and very high-speed storage.”
The current and future supercomputers are funded through grants from the National Science Foundation. Researchers can use the Supercomputing Center services for free, provided the findings are made public. Clients can also pay for analysis they want to keep private.
Nystrom said Bridges 1’s artificial intelligence capabilities have propelled many fields forward, including break-throughs in material science by identifying different combinations of elements, or compound structures.
“[Which] have very interesting properties that are valuable,” he said. “For instance, some of these materials can be used to produce energy more efficiently… other ones can more efficiently catalyze hydrogen, also for energy.”
Bridges 1 also plays poker and can run complex simulations, which might, for example, cut the time and expense for pharmaceutical research.
Bridges 2 should be operational by next fall.