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UNLV celebrates state-of-the-art, world-class supercomputer

Quick: Multiply 3.14159 by 1.61803.

Can’t do it?

Don’t worry, in a few days the University of Nevada, Las Vegas will have a supercomputer that can do the equation and 200 trillion more like it in one second.

UNLV will be welcoming Intel’s Cherry Creek supercomputer — which was ranked in 2013 as the 400th fastest supercomputer in the world and the 41st most energy-efficient and powerful computer in the world.

The supercomputer, which looks like an oversized refrigerator, has 10,000 core processors that will be able to perform intensive computational tasks such as exploring the human genome.

Compare that to a run-of-the-mill laptop, which has a single core processor. Watson, the computer that bested Ken Jennings on “Jeopardy!” has 2,880 core processors.

Joe Lombardo, executive director of UNLV’s national supercomputing center, said Cherry Creek will be the fastest and most powerful computer at a higher education institution in Nevada.

Cherry Creek, which is on its way to Nevada from an Intel plant in Oregon, will be housed at Switch Communications, the computer data center company that provides off-site servers to technology companies and the federal government. Switch is located in the south valley.

And housing the machine at Switch means the computer will be in a safe, cool environment, thanks to the companies cooling system, Lombardo said.

Supercomputers run very hot, apparently.

“This is a very special machine,” said Lombardo, who wrote the proposal that persuaded Intel to award Cherry Creek to UNLV.

“Having access to this technology not only enhances research and enhances the educational experience for our graduate and undergraduate students, it will play a critical and important role in faculty improvement.”

The “best and brightest faculty” will be attracted to UNLV to work with a state of the art, world-class supercomputer, Lombardo said.

Supercomputers are being used in many industries, including aerospace, automotive design, government intelligence and film making — think complicated graphic art in action scenes.

And UNLV students, through their professors, will be able to use it for projects, while “students at other universities can read about it,” Lombardo said.

UNLV President Don Snyder called it a “tremendous opportunity” and “a game changer.”

The acquisition of Cherry Creek, Snyder said, will help push UNLV to gain the highest ranking as a Carnegie Research university, a prestigious designation from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Besides its educational uses, Cherry Creek will help advance scientific discoveries at the university.

Professor Marty Schiller already has plans for the supercomputer.

“My life’s awesome right now,” the School of Life Sciences professor said. “It is enabling discoveries that wouldn’t be possible without a high-end computer like this.”

Schiller is researching the human genome to determine how different DNA sequences could result in different diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gerhig’s disease.

The research could show how different medications can help individual people or in some cases not help someone. It’s personalized medicine versus medicine for the masses, Schiller said.

The complicated algorithms that Schiller writes for his research into genome sequencing must be processed hundreds of thousands of times. These calculations used to take years to perform, Schiller said.

“Instead of two or three years, it takes two or three weeks” by using Cherry Creek, he said.

Cherry Creek can be used by the private sector through partnerships with UNLV and Switch and is expected to attract significant research grants.

Meanwhile, Lombardo said UNLV’s own supercomputer, which is housed on campus and named Eureka, will remain active.

“We want to have more than one of these machines,” he said.

Contact Francis McCabe at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or702-224-5512. Find him on Twitter: @fjmccabe

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