Artist's illustration using binary numbers

A new highly parallel supercomputer capable of solving problems at extremely high speeds is being acquired by a consortium involving the California Institute of Technology, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA and a number of other organizations, it has been announced.

Complex problems in space sciences and global atmospheric modeling related to the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion will be among topics assigned to the supercomputer, according to Dr. Carl Kukkonen of JPL.

The announcement was made this morning (Nov. 13) at a news briefing in New York City at Supercomputing '90, an industry event.

The speed and memory of the supercomputer -- a Touchstone Delta System made by the Intel Corp. -- will make it the world's most powerful computer when it is installed early next year, consortium organizers say.

The Delta uses a network of 528 Intel i860 processor units working concurrently on a problem at a given time. As a result it can achieve a peak speed of 32 gigaflops, or billions of floating-point operations per second. Its memory capacity is 8 gigabytes.

The Delta is 2 to 10 times faster than other existing supercomputers, said Kukkonen.

The Delta System is the result of research collaboration between Caltech and Intel. Work in parallel processing has been pursued at Caltech and JPL throughout the past six years.

JPL researchers will use the supercomputer to explore a wide range of Earth and space science topics under NASA's High Performance Computing Initiative. In addition to atmospheric studies, initial problems to be run on the Delta include solar and astrophysical modeling.

Another major application will be visualization of scientific data from the planets Venus and Jupiter gathered by the NASA/JPL Magellan and Galileo missions, Kukkonen said.

JPL will also use the Delta to design future solar system exploration spacecraft and remote-sensing instruments, and to develop command sequences to control spacecraft.

NASA researchers in other parts of the country are expected to use the Delta in areas such as computer simulation of aerospace vehicles.

Kukkonen heads JPL's Microelectronics and Advanced Computing Technology Office, which will manage JPL's share of the Delta.

Joining Caltech and JPL among the consortium's partners will be Argonne National Laboratory; the Center for Research in Parallel Computation, operated by several institutions under National Science Foundation sponsorship; various other National Science Foundation-sponsored programs; the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); Intel Corp.'s Supercomputer Systems Division; NASA; and Pacific Northwest Laboratory.

Other consortium members include Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Purdue University and Sandia National Laboratories.

The Delta will be physically located in Caltech's Concurrent Supercomputing Facilities in Pasadena, Calif.

Development of the Delta at Intel and related basic research at Caltech are funded by DARPA. Additional funding for research in parallel computation at Caltech and JPL was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy's Applied Mathematical Sciences program and the U.S. Air Force's Electronic Systems Division.

Dr. Carl Kukkonen is the son of Carl and Shirley Kukkonen of Hancock, Michigan.

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