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THE SUPERCOMPUTER ERA by Sidney Karin

Author(s): 

Reviewed by Harry E. Pence

Note: This article was scanned using OCR from the Fall 1991 CCCE Newsletter. Please contact us if you identify any OCR errors.
 
Supercomputers are the fastest and most powerful computing systems available, and they are playing an increasingly important role in many fields of science and engineering. In view of this fact, it's surprising to note that support for supercomputing in this country has beenrathererratic. During the 1970s Federal sponsorship of these systems seemed to languish, and more recently one ofthe major U.S. supercomputer manufacturers, ETA Systems, a subsidiary of the Control Data Corp., has ceased operations, leaving the marketto Cray, IBM, and their Japanese competitors.
 
On the positive side, the National Science Foundation Supercomputing Initiative, begun in 1985, has played a vital role in supporting the creation of both new supe¬∑rcomputing centers and improved communications networks (i.e. NSFnet) to increase connectivity to these centers. In addition, more pharmaceutical and chemical companies are purchasing supercomputers. These developments are making this technology much more readily accessible for both industrial and academic use. Supercomputing is no longer limited to a handful of elite academic institutions.
 
This availability is broadening opportunities for actually using supercomputers and aiso creating a need for more discussion of the capabilities ot' these devices at all levels of higher education. As the authors point out, "Not enough people in the U.S. know enough about supercomputers." Improved accessibility is not enough; the goal must be to greatly expand the number of faculty and students who can make use of this accessibility.
 
This book is a survey that focuses primarily upon the historical development and current applications of supercomputing. Much of the book deals with the way that supercomputers are used in various academic disciplines. Surprisingly enough, even though chemists are major users of this technology, chemical applications are discussed only briefly. A more extensive discussion of topics like computational chemistry, molecular modeling, and numerical simulation would have been especially welcome, since these methods are becoming increasingly routine in industrial and academic laboratories. The book is intended to make the reader more aware of supercomputers rather than to serve as a technical primer on how to use one. The relative neglect of chemical applications is unfortunate, but otherwise the authors are reasonably successful at achieving this goal. The writing style is informal, with enough interesting and humorous asides to make the book quite readable. Chemists who wish only a general overview of supercomputers may find this book to be useful.
Date: 
10/05/91 to 10/09/91