Run as a user lab, CSCS promotes and encourages top-notch research. A transparent review process by independent experts guarantees that all promising projects receive computer time. Simulations created on supercomputers yield completely new insights in science. Consequently, CSCS operates cutting-edge computer systems as an essential service facility for Swiss researchers. These computers aid scientists with diverse issues and requirements – from the pure calculation of complex problems to analysis of complex data.
The pool of national high-performance computers is available to its users as a so-called User Lab: all researchers in Switzerland can use the supercomputer infrastructure. Disciplines such as physics, materials science and cosmology traditionally use high-performance computers like those operated by CSCS. Cosmologists, for instance, are unable to reproduce the Big Bang in the lab and endeavour to reconstruct the origin and development of the cosmos with the aid of simulations instead. Understanding the development of the universe is of crucial importance as basic principles of physics with far-reaching implications can be confirmed or refuted as a result.
Today, simulations come into play where experiments are no longer possible or our traditional methods no longer suffice. Scientists from an increasing number of disciplines are thus resorting to high-performance computers for their research. For example, supercomputers can model new, unknown materials with hitherto unknown properties and functionalities. Additionally, climate models and simple weather forecasts would be impossible without them. In social science, simulations can also help prevent mass panic by simulating people’s behaviour. In medicine, computer simulations aid diagnostics and thus help improve treatment methods. Moreover, they facilitate risk assessments for natural hazards such as earthquakes and the tsunamis they trigger. With the growing number of scientific applications, the num- ber of users and projects at CSCS is therefore constantly on the rise.
Computer time allocated by independent experts
In the competition for precious computer time, a transparent review process conducted by an independent committee of specialists decides how the time should be allocated. Every project proposal is evaluated by two scientists who belong to academic establishments from around the world and two technical experts from CSCS. An independent expert committee ultimately decides on the allocation of the computer time in a final evaluation based on these assessments. The painstaking procedure is designed to guarantee that all projects be treated equally and all promising projects can be implemented on high-performance computers.
Computing resources on a contractual basis
The needs for HPC resources extend also to many Swiss research institutes that, instead of running their own clusters (or in addition), have decided to take advantage of the services provided at CSCS and run their workloads on an environment shared with the User Lab.
Contractual partners of CSCS currently are: Empa, ETH Zurich, Paul Scherrer Institute, Università della Svizzera italiana, University of Geneva (CADMOS) and University of Zurich.