Dr. Srinivas Aluru of Iowa State University's Bioinformatics and Computational Biology program joined us to talk about ISU's CyBlue, the 99th most-powerful computer in the world. According to the rankings, the US has 299 of the top 500 computers, and more than 60% of the top processing power.
CyBlue performs 5.7 teraflops (trillion calculations per second), using 2,048 processors all tied together in a box about the size of a refrigerator. The machine uses 20kW of power -- considerably less than putting 2,000 laptops in a single room.
At Iowa State, those computers are being used to model the corn genome -- it's a major step for basic research that will help determine the state of things to come in developing better corn, a basic foodstuff for much of the world. Elsewhere, supercomputers are being used to model the power grid, predict the spread of bird flu, and predict the weather.
We discussed the related use of PlayStations as supercomputers, which (bizarrely) could perform just as well as a bunch of coordinated desktop computers at lower cost.