hurricane allows evacuation of the coastline that will be impacted (saving lives), while not disturbing the surrounding area (saving money). Rapid time to solution in a commercial arena translates into minimizing the time to market for new products and services. The ability to solve many problems in a reasonable time frame allows engineers to explore design spaces before committing to the time and expense of building prototypes.
An important phenomenon that cannot be underestimated is how the potential for making a scientific discovery can encourage human creativity. Few advances in science and technology are unplanned or unexpected, at least in hindsight. Discoveries almost always come in the wake of work that inspires or enables them. When one discovery opens up the possibility of another, the leading intellects of our time will focus tremendous time and energy on developing the algorithms needed to make a discovery that appears tantalizingly close. Supercomputing expands the space within which such new algorithms can be found by maximizing the resources that can be brought to bear on the problem.
Supercomputing allows pioneering scientists and engineers to invent solutions to problems that were initially beyond human ability to solve. Often, these are problems of great national importance. Dimitri Kusnezov, Director of the NNSA, put it this way when he testified before the U.S. Senate in June 2004:4 “Simulating the time evolution of the behavior of an exploding nuclear device is not only a mammoth scientific enterprise from a computational perspective, it probably represents the confluence of more physics, chemistry and material science, both equilibrium and non-equilibrium, at multiple length and time scales than almost any other scientific challenge.”
Over time and with increasing experience, the algorithms mature and become more efficient. Furthermore, smaller computing systems such as servers and personal computers become more powerful. These two trends make problems that were once addressable only by nation states now addressable by large research and engineering enterprises and, given enough time, eventually by individual scientists and engineers. Consider an example from mechanical dynamics. Starting in the 1950s, scientists at the nuclear weapons laboratories pioneered the use of explicit finite element programs to simulate the propagation of shocks through the devices they were developing. These codes became available to industrial users in the 1980s. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, automotive companies ran