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Downers Grove

Michael E. Papka: Argonne research focusing on supercomputers

Debuting last year as the world’s third-fastest computer, the new supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory is a superstar in its own right that also happens to be capable of simulating a trillion stars.

The massive machine, named Mira (from Latin “miraculum,” or “object of wonder”) adds a tremendous amount of computational power to the nation.

Research teams from around the world are preparing to use Mira to tackle the most challenging problems in science and engineering today.

What happens when a star explodes? Can we find alternative fuel sources? How hot will the greenhouse world be?

These problems cannot be addressed any other way because of their sheer size or complexity. Mira will be used to compress time and explore many possible solutions to issues related to energy and the environment. It will enable the prototyping and testing of construction materials before they are ever physically built and will help search for effective vaccines to deadly infections.

Along with Argonne’s other high-profile user facilities such as the Advanced Photon Source and the new Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, the laboratory operates a premier supercomputing center where Mira is housed: the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility. Virtually any process or problem can be advanced with high-performance computing, and the ALCF provides hundreds of millions of computing hours each year to research projects from industry, academia and national laboratories.

To give you an idea of Mira’s computational power, the system has more than 786,000 processors and is capable of carrying out 10 quadrillion calculations per second. Simulation that used to take two months now takes two days.

I’d like to invite you to learn more about Argonne’s computing program on March 14 when Argonne’s Pete Beckman, co-director of the Northwestern-Argonne Institute for Science and Engineering, will present a talk as part of Argonne’s public lecture series, Argonne OutLoud.

Beckman will talk about how math and supercomputers are accelerating scientific discovery and helping us predict the future. From discovering the secret inner workings of the universe to developing cars that can drive themselves, Beckman will share the technology and science fueling a new breed of supercomputers that will continue to improve our world.

For more information, please visit

Michael E. Papka is deputy associate laboratory director of the Computing, Environment and Life Sciences as well as director of the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility at Argonne National Laboratory

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