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Centennial of scientific computing

SiCortex opens up its press release from the show last week with an interesting perspective on our business – not the HPC bit, but the things we have HPC for

SiCortex logoOne hundred years ago, Lewis Fry Richardson completed the first true scientific simulation, a two-dimensional model to predict the behavior of a dam under stress. This project involved a team of human “computers” performing slide-rule calculations for a mind-and-finger-numbing period of three years.

SiCortex masterfully tied Richardson’s advances to their own product and what they were showing at the show.

This week, a team of humans performed a similar simulation, this time by pedaling bicycles to power a supercomputer. The demonstration was held at SC08 in Austin, Texas, by students from Purdue University and seven cyclists from Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop, a venture partially owned by Lance Armstrong. The Purdue students used a SiCortex SC1458 high-productivity computer to complete a three-dimensional dam-break simulation in less than 20 minutes. “Supercomputing has come a long way over the last hundred years,” said SiCortex president and CEO Chris Stone.

This is one of the best examples of “press release as readable story” that I’ve run across in 2 years of reading press releases in HPC. By the way, this is the same Richardson who lent his name to the Richardson number in CFD. He also did a bit with weather modeling and fractals — the guy got around. From the Wikipedia entry

One of Richardson’s most celebrated achievements is his attempt in hind sight to forecast the weather on a single day — 20 May 1910 — by direct computation. At the time, meteorologists carried out forecasts principally by looking for similar weather patterns from past records, and then extrapolating forward. Richardson attempted to use a mathematical model of the principal features of the atmosphere, and calculate the next day’s weather ab initio from data taken at a specific time (7 am). As Lynch makes clear [8], Richardson’s forecast failed dramatically, predicting a huge 145 mbar rise in pressure over 6 hours when the pressure actually stayed more or less static. However, detailed analysis by Lynch has shown that the cause was a failure to apply smoothing techniques to the data, which rule out unphysical surges in pressure. When these are applied, Richardson’s forecast turns out to be essentially accurate — a remarkable achievement considering the calculations were done by hand, and while Richardson was serving with the Quaker ambulance unit in northern France.

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