The world’s fastest supercomputer just broke the exascale barrier

The milestone will allow for complex calculations that benefit a wide range of research areas

Frontier supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The Frontier supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee performed more than a quintillion calculations per second, officially reaching the milestone of exascale computing.

Carlos Jones/ORNL/U.S. Department of Energy

The first exascale computer has officially arrived.

The world’s fastest supercomputer performed more than a quintillion calculations per second, entering the realm of exascale computing. That’s according to a ranking of the world’s speediest supercomputers called the TOP500, announced on May 30. The computer, known as Frontier, is the first exascale computer to be included on the biannual list.

Exascale computing is expected to allow for new advances in a variety of scientific fields that depend on vastly complex calculations. The exascale milestone “represents an unprecedented capability for researchers around the world to use the computer to ask their specific scientific questions,” says Frontier’s project director Justin Whitt of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Oak Ridge’s Frontier clocked in at about 1.1 exaflops, or 1.1 quintillion operations per second. Frontier beat out the previous record-holder, a supercomputer called Fugaku at the RIKEN Center for Computational Science in Kobe, Japan, which achieved more than 0.4 exaflops.

While tentative reports have suggested that some Chinese supercomputers are already achieving exascale performance, they have not been reported on the TOP500 ranking so far.

After about three years of development, Frontier will be ready for scientists to begin using it at the end of 2022. With its new exascale capability, researchers aim to simulate how stars explode, calculate the properties of subatomic particles, investigate new energy sources such as nuclear fusion and harness artificial intelligence to improve the diagnosis and prevention of disease, among many other research topics.

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

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