£7 million supercomputer facility opens

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The University of Bristol has opened the BlueCrystal supercomputer facility, which will aid research in areas such as climate change, drug design and aerospace engineering.

BlueCrystal is able to carry out more than 37 trillion calculations a second. The system, provided as a result of collaboration between various companies including ClusterVision, IBM and ClearSpeed, enables researchers from a wide range of disciplines to undertake research requiring either very large amounts of data to be processed or lengthy computations to be carried out.

Dr Ian Stewart, director of the University's Advanced Computing Research Centre, said: ‘Serious research in many disciplines can no longer be undertaken without high-performance computing (HPC) and the university has recognised this through its investment in BlueCrystal. HPC-based research contributes significantly to university research income and will play an increasingly important role in teaching.’

More than 160 researchers from across the university are already using BlueCrystal. Major users include climatologists in the School of Geographical Sciences who are developing models to predict climate change. These models require huge amounts of computing power and disk space, with a typical simulation taking three months to run and generating 10,000 gigabytes of model output. Such models will help to identify where in the world may be at the highest risk of flooding. It should also contribute to the ability of climate scientists to monitor ice sheets in the Antarctic.  

Computational modelling also plays a critical part in drug design. Researchers in the Department of Biochemistry are searching for anti-cancer drugs that will prevent secondary tumours developing from breast cancer. By using computer simulation to screen for suitable compounds, rather than undertaking exhaustive screening processes in the laboratory, the most promising compounds can be identified more quickly and become the focus of further research.  

Researchers in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, who have close links with local aerospace companies, are using BlueCrystal to investigate the aerodynamics of helicopter blades. Billions of calculations are required, so using a supercomputer speeds up the process significantly and allows a level of resolution not previously possible.  

The HPC facility is housed in a unique machine room and is designed to be energy-efficient. The room makes use of advanced remote management equipment and is fitted with a leading-edge air-conditioning solution, which uses energy-efficient, water-cooled racks.