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News Release 13-056

NSF-Supported Blue Waters, One of the World's Most Powerful Computers, Is Open for Research

Blue Waters has been configured to solve the most challenging compute-, memory-, and data-intensive problems in science and engineering

Panoramic image of the Blue Waters super computer system

Blue Waters will enable researchers to investigate challenging and heretofore impossible problems.

March 28, 2013

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

National Science Foundation- (NSF) funded Blue Waters, one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, was formally declared available for use today at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). The ceremony was attended by corporate, government and university leaders.

Blue Waters, a partnership among NSF, the State of Illinois, the University of Illinois and the Great Lakes Consortium for Petascale Computation, is capable at peak performance of nearly 12 quadrillion floating point operations per second and, more importantly, has demonstrated sustained system performance of more than one petaflop on a range of commonly-used science and engineering applications.

This capability puts Blue Waters in a class by itself. By balancing processor performance characteristics with memory and storage attributes, it offers usable and efficient petaflop performance for large-scale scientific applications at the frontiers of computational science.

Early research on Blue Waters already is addressing problems that are much larger and more complex than those modeled to date, and is already providing unprecedented insights.

"Blue Waters is an example of a high-risk, high-reward research infrastructure project that will enable NSF to achieve its mission of funding basic research at the frontiers of science," said NSF Acting Director Cora Marrett. "Its impact on science and engineering discoveries and innovation, as well as on national priorities, such as health, safety and well-being, will be extraordinary."

In addition to Marrett, the dedication ceremony also included remarks from Cray President and CEO Peter Ungaro, several University of Illinois officials, including President Robert Easter and Chancellor Phyllis Wise, as well as U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee Member Dan Lipinski, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who today issued a Blue Waters proclamation.

"Whereas American innovations in science and technology, fueled by public and private research investments, have created economic prosperity, improved our quality of life, and aided those who serve our state and nation..." the proclamation begins. "... I, Pat Quinn, Governor of the State of Illinois, do hereby proclaim, March 28, 2013 as Blue Waters Supercomputer Day in Illinois..."

Blue Waters has been available to research teams in a friendly-user mode since March 2012. To date, more than 30 science and engineering teams have been allocated time on Blue Waters. By enabling advancements in research related to elementary particle physics, molecules and materials, tornadoes and climate change and cosmology, their studies will provide insights into the fundamental nature of matter, the basic constituents of the everyday world, critical processes on the earth, as well as the evolution of the universe.

"Today's dedication celebrates Blue Waters, which promises to accelerate the pace of scientific progress across multiple disciplines," said Farnam Jahanian, head of NSF's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering. "Blue Waters is a national resource that will allow researchers access to the most powerful computational resources available today, furthering research across all scientific disciplines and enabling the investigation of problems not possible before."

"With Blue Waters, scientists are beginning already to predict the behavior of complex biological systems, understand how the cosmos evolved after the Big Bang, design new materials at the atomic level, predict the behavior of earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes, and simulate complex engineered systems like the power distribution system of airplanes and automobiles," said Alan Blatecky, NSF division director for Advanced Cyberinfrastructure.

Blue Waters is one of two NSF-supported, supercomputing systems formally declared available for use this week. The other, Stampede, was dedicated yesterday at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

These two significant projects, now entering full deployment, are part of NSF's comprehensive strategy for advanced computing infrastructure to facilitate transformative foundational research in computational and data-intensive science and engineering across all disciplines.

What follows are a few examples of the exciting and promising research on Blue Waters:

Modeling HIV

Blue Waters is enabling Klaus Schulten and his team at UIUC to describe the HIV genome and its behavior in minute detail, through computations that require the simulations of more than 60 million atoms. They recently published a paper in PLOS Pathogens touting an early discovery that may eventually lead to uncovering the structure of HIV. The researchers described a smaller virus associated with HIV, which could only be achieved through a 10 million atom, molecular dynamics simulation, inconceivable before Blue Waters. The team is using Blue Waters to investigate complex and fundamental molecular dynamics problems requiring atomic level simulations that are 10 to 100 times larger than those modeled to date, providing unprecedented insights.

Global climate change

Also featured at the dedication event, Cristiana Stan and James Kinter of George Mason University use Blue Waters to engage in topical research on the role of clouds in modeling the global climate system during present conditions and in future climate change scenarios.

Earthquake prediction

A team at the Southern California Earthquake Center, led by Thomas Jordan, carries out large-scale, high-resolution earthquake simulations that incorporate the entire Los Angeles basin, including all natural and human-built infrastructure, requiring orders of magnitude more computing power than studies done to date. Their work will provide better seismic hazard assessments and inform safer building codes: Preparing for the Big One.

Flood assessment, drought monitoring, and resource management

Engineering Professor Patrick Reed and his team from Penn State, Princeton and the Aerospace Corporation, use Blue Waters to transform understanding and optimization of space-based Earth science satellite constellation designs. "Blue Waters has fundamentally changed the scale and scope of the questions we can explore," he said. "Our hope is that the answers we discover will enhance flood assessment, drought monitoring, and the management of water resources in large river basins world-wide."

Fundamental properties of nature

Robert Sugar, professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, uses Blue Waters to more fully understand the fundamental laws of nature and to glean knowledge of the early development of the universe. "Blue Waters packs a one-two punch," said Sugar, "Blue Waters enables us to perform the most detailed and realistic simulations of sub-atomic particles and their interactions to date. Studies such as these are a global endeavor, and the large data sets produced on Blue Waters will be shared with researchers worldwide for further discoveries."


Media Contacts
Lisa-Joy Zgorski, NSF, (703) 292-8311, email:
Trish Barker, NCSA, (217) 265-8013, email:

Program Contacts
Irene Qualters, NSF, (703) 292-2339, email:

Principal Investigators
Cristiana Stan, GMU, email:
James Kinter, GMU, (301) 595-7000, email:
Klaus Schulten, UIUC, (217) 244-1604, email:
Robert Sugar, UCSB, (805) 893-3469, email:
Patrick Reed, Penn State, (814) 863-2940, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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