Happy Birthday PSC: 20 Years of Supercomputing in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, January 17, 2006 — Twenty years ago today, January 17, 1986, the National Science Board approved funding for the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. As the fifth supercomputing center to be approved through a National Science Foundation initiative, PSC came in to the supercomputing world running to catch up. Twenty years later, the original five are three, and PSC is solidly established as one of the world's leading centers in implementing new high-performance computing technologies as productive tools for science and engineering research.

PHOTO: PSC scientific directors Michael Levine (left) and Ralph

PSC scientific directors Michael Levine (left) and Ralph Roskies with the PSC Cray X-MP.

One of PSC’s strengths has been its three-way collaboration between Pittsburgh’s two major research universities, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, together with the technological expertise of Westinghouse Electric Company. Affiliation with two great universities helped to attract the pool of talent that has distinguished PSC, as exemplified by its flying start. By April 1986, with a staff of a dozen people, PSC installed and tested its first system, the then state-of-the-art Cray X-MP, and it was in use by researchers only three months after ink dried on the NSF contract.

Much has changed in 20 years of supercomputing. Personal computers now have as much power as that X-MP, and PSC’s newest system, the 10-teraflop Cray XT3 — named Big Ben — is more than 10,000 times as powerful. What hasn’t changed is PSC’s ability to get things done. Within the space of a year, Big Ben - a massively parallel system comprising 2,090 processors, much more complex than that X-MP - was tested, optimized and is now serving U.S. scientists and engineers as a production resource of the NSF TeraGrid.

Many significant results have come from research at PSC. Highlights include pioneering air-pollution studies for the Los Angeles air basin that influenced federal legislation, the first three-dimensional model of blood-flow in the heart, an accurate forecast of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9’s impact with Jupiter, modeling of earthquake soil vibration in unprecedented detail, protein modeling that contributed to the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and development of dramatically improved ability to forecast severe storms. PSC’s staff is pleased to have had the privilege of supporting U.S scientific and engineering research for the past 20 years and looks forward to progress yet to come.

About PSC:
The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is a joint effort of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh together with Westinghouse Electric Company. Established in 1986, PSC is supported by several federal agencies, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and private industry, and is a partner in the National Science Foundation TeraGrid program.