Not only have supercomputers changed scientific research in a fundamental way, they also enable the development of new, affordable products and services which have a major impact on our daily lives.
Not only have supercomputers changed scientific research in a fundamental way ...
Supercomputers are indispensable for scientific research and for a modern R&D environment. ‘Computational Science’ is - alongside theory and experiment - the third fully fledged pillar of science. For centuries, scientists used pen and paper to develop new theories based on scientific experiments. They also set up new experiments to verify the predictions derived from these theories (a process often carried out with pen and paper). It goes without saying that this method was slow and cumbersome.
As an astronomer you can not simply make Jupiter a little bigger to see what effect this would lager size would have on our solar system. As a nuclear scientist it would be difficult to deliberately lose control over a nuclear reaction to ascertain the consequences of such a move. (Super)computers can do this and are indeed revolutionizing science.
Complex theoretical models - too advanced for ‘pen and paper’ results - are simulated on computers. The results they deliver, are then compared with reality and used for prediction purposes. Supercomputers have the ability to handle huge amounts of data, thus enabling experiments that would not be achievable in any other way. Large radio telescopes or the LHC particle accelerator at CERN could not function without supercomputers processing mountains of data.
… but also the industry and out society
But supercomputers are not just an expensive toy for researchers at universities. Numerical simulation also opens up new possibilities in industrial R&D. For example in the search for new medicinal drugs, new materials or even the development of a new car model. Biotechnology also requires the large data processing capacity of a supercomputer. The quest for clean energy, a better understanding of the weather and climate evolution, or new technologies in health care all require a powerful supercomputer.
Supercomputers have a huge impact on our everyday lives. Have you ever wondered why the showroom of your favourite car brand contains many more car types than 20 years ago? Or how each year a new and faster smartphone model is launched on the market? We owe all of this to supercomputers.