June 22, 2018 - by Valentina Tamburello
Thomas Schulthess, the director of CSCS, has been interviewed by the ETH-Library for their online platform “Explora”. In the interview he explained the role of CSCS in developing supercomputers that help not only researchers in Academia, but also in industries in fields like weather forecasts, new materials, superconductors, etc. “Both society and industry benefit from supercomputing power. For example, industry uses supercomputers to develop aircraft or new materials. Society has an immediate benefit, we run the supercomputer for MeteoSwiss”.
You can read the entire article here and discovered more about the path that inventors and scientists took for centuries to simplify calculation, avoid mistakes and accomplish ever larger calculation quantities.
Mathematics is indeed the most ancient discipline, with its origins dating back to the ancient Sumerians who built the earliest civilization in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. It was already a fundamental means not only for commerce, taxation and trade, but also for Astronomy, in order to track time (seasons, full moons, etc) time and build calendars.
Year by year calculations have become more and more complex and the use of devices like abacuses and slide rules was the norm, but rapid calculations were needed in order to tackle more complex tasks. Therefore it was necessary to develop calculating machines. The first ones worked without electricity and ETH-Library owns some of them, which are part of the Collection of Astronomical Instruments and date back to the 17th century. These fascinating machines are the forerunners of the modern computers. Our lives completely changed after the introduction of the first personal computers in 70s and research has improved a lot thanks to them.
However, nowadays the usual computers we have at home, despite they seem very fast to us, are not enough for research standards. To understand, for example, how our Universe formed, how the neurons work in our brains or how the weather will be in the next weeks, researchers need “supercomputers”, able to run large simulations and process enormous quantities of data. Piz Daint, the most powerful supercomputer in Europe, is in Ticino, at the Swiss National Computing Centre (CSCS) and can provide up to 25 petaflops, more than 10’000 times more powerful than a laptop!