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Roadrunner supercomputer puts research at a new scale
Date:6/12/2008

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico, June 12, 2008Less than a week after Los Alamos National Laboratory's Roadrunner supercomputer began operating at world-record petaflop/s data-processing speeds, Los Alamos researchers are already using the computer to mimic extremely complex neurological processes.

Welcome to the new frontier of research at Los Alamos: science at the petascale.

The prefix "peta" stands for a million billion, also known as a quadrillion. For the Roadrunner supercomputer, operating at petaflop/s performance means the machine can process a million billion calculations each second. In other words, Roadrunner gives scientists the ability to quickly render mountainous problems into mere molehills, or model systems that previously were unthinkably complex.

Late last week and early this week while verifying Roadrunner's performance, Los Alamos and IBM researchers used three different computational codes to test the machine. Among those codes was one dubbed "PetaVision" by its developers and the research team using it.

PetaVision models the human visual systemmimicking more than 1 billion visual neurons and trillions of synapses. Neurons are nerve cells that process information in the brain. Neurons communicate with each other using synaptic connections, analogous to what transistors are in modern computer chips. Synapses store memories and play a vital role in learning.

Synapses set the scale for computations performed by the brain while undertaking such tasks as locomotion, hearing or vision. Because there are about a quadrillion synapses in the human brain, human cognition is a petaflop/s computational problem.

To date, computers have been unable to match human performance on such visual tasks as flawlessly detecting an oncoming automobile on the highway or distinguishing a friend from a stranger in a crowd of people. Roadrunner is now changing the game.

On Saturday, Los Alamos researchers used Pe
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Contact: James E. Rickman
jamesr@lanl.gov
505-665-9203
DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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