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Argonne National Lab To Get World’s Fastest Supercomputer

Argonne National Laboratory in west suburban Lemont will soon be home to the world’s fastest supercomputer, officials announced Monday.

Nicknamed “Aurora,” the computer will be the first in the United States to operate at exascale, capable of a quintillion — or one billion billion — calculations per second. That’s 50 times quicker than today’s most powerful supercomputers, according to a news release from the University of Chicago, which manages Argonne for the U.S. Department of Energy.

The contract for the computer is valued at more than $500 million. It will be developed by Seattle-based supercomputer-maker Cray Inc., along with Intel Corp., and should be ready in 2021.

“Aurora and the next generation of exascale supercomputers will apply [high-performance computing] and AI [artificial intelligence] technologies to areas such as cancer research, climate modeling, and veterans’ health treatments,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said in a prepared statement.

Perry, Argonne officials and executives from Cray and Intel were in Lemont Monday to announce the Aurora project.

University of Chicago researchers are already preparing for discoveries that could be made possible by Aurora. Assistant professor and Argonne researcher Narayanan Kasthuri hopes to reverse engineer the human brain by using powerful microscopes to photograph billions of cells.

“With the help of Aurora, I will be able to piece together millions of two-dimensional images, reconstructing the brain in three dimensions to create a map of the human brain,” Kasthuri said in a statement.

The computer is also expected to help develop more effective personalized treatments for cancer and guide scientists towards sources of dark matter in the universe, among other things.

The name “Aurora” was chosen to represent the computer’s potential to illuminate, said Argonne Associate Laboratory Director Rick Stevens.  

“This marks a turning point in the history of supercomputing as artificial intelligence becomes integrated into traditional high-performance computing systems at the largest scale known to man,” Stevens said.

Miles Bryan is a General Assignment Reporter for WBEZ News. Follow him @miles_bryan. 

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