IBM's ASCI White supercomputing power to aid quest for Alzheimer's cure at Boston University

Boston 16 August 2000Boston University has become the world's first academic institution to implement a broadly available version of IBM's ASCI White, the most powerful supercomputer ever built. The RS/6000 SP will double the institution's supercomputing capacity and will help researchers on a variety of projects in fields such as quantum physics, genome research as well as investigations into a cure for Alzheimer's.


The ASCI White supercomputer is a classified system used by the United States Department of Energy to simulate nuclear tests. Covering an area the size of two basketball courts, ASCI White is capable of processing 12.3 trillion calculations per second. The non-classified Boston University system, a version of ASCI White, can process 96 billion calculations per second.

Installed in Boston University's Center for Computational Science, the RS/6000 SP allows researchers to analyse the harmful build-up of particles, called senile plaques, in brains afflicted with Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's disease is a progressively debilitating disorder of the central nervous system, causing loss of memory and eventually loss of all bodily control. The type of sophisticated Alzheimer's research conducted at the University would be impossible without the new supercomputer.

"The IBM SP lays the groundwork for a series of enhancements to our supercomputing capabilities over the next few years", stated John Porter, Boston University CIO and vice president for Information Systems. "We are confident that Boston University will remain at the leading edge of advanced computing technology and continue to provide our users with one of the most versatile and advanced facilities available."

"Boston University is engaged in vitally important research which has the potential to impact the lives of countless people", commented Peter Ungaro, vice-president of Scientific and Technical Computing, IBM Server Group. "Using the same technology as ASCI White, the university's RS/6000 SP is an example of the vast uses for supercomputing power from testing nuclear weapon stockpiles to Alzheimer's research, opening the doors to many commercial and research-based uses."

The new RS/6000 SP system uses performance-enhancing POWER3-II copper microprocessors, silicon switching technology and advanced software to provide the university with the unprecedented processing speed, scalability and reliability needed to tackle computational sciences. Microprocessors which use copper wire are faster than those containing traditional aluminum wire because copper is a better electrical conductor.

In 2002, the system will be upgraded with IBM's POWER4 microprocessors, which are expected to provide another dramatic increase in performance. "We are looking forward to a close collaboration with IBM which will allow our researchers to take maximum advantage of IBM's high-end systems", stated Claudio Rebbi, professor of physics and director of the Center for Computational Science. "At Boston University we have a long tradition of forefront computing and we are quite confident that the work of our scientists will be a showcase for the IBM SP."

You can read more on the use of supercomputing in the struggle against Alzheimer's disease in this issue's VMW article Merck Sharp and Dohme purchases SGI technology to discover new drugs against Alzheimer's.

Leslie Versweyveld

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