It's the granddaddy and big mama of U.S. supercomputing all wrapped into one. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory got its start as a nuclear technology testing facility outside the San Francisco Bay area in 1952. That's when researchers used an old Naval infirmary to house the facility's first computer. Since that first machine was installed, Livermore Lab has been among the world's computing elite. Granted, your first smartphone probably had more processing speed than that first computer, but Livermore's machines have always been at the heart of America's nuclear program.
For more than 60 years, this is where the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has studied nuclear reactions and detonations. Today, every time the DoD changes a piece of hardware on its nuclear arsenal, it gets run through the simulators at Livermore to make sure the systems will still work if they ever get used.
The lab fired up Sequoia in 2012, its IBM Blue Gene/Q 16.32-petaflop monster. This system can supposedly calculate all the reactions and interactions in a nuclear blast in about a week. Its predecessor took about a month to do the same task. And to put that in even more perspective, your laptop computer would take about 1,600 years to do the job [source: Derene].
Author's Note: 10 Major Players in Supercomputers
Going into this article, I really didn't know what to expect. I was afraid the information was going to be drier than a day-old piece of toast. But as I researched the different labs, I was amazed at the range of work that these computers are being used for -- everything from medical research, space research, climate prediction and even animation. Bravo, supercomputers and the people who run you. Bravo!
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Supercomputers are getting backing from the White House. Learn more about supercomputers in the U.S. at HowStuffWorks Now.