Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Monday, 2 June 2008 17:39 UK

Computer speeds up college work

Sian Dafydd
BBC Wales news website

Cardiff University's high performance computing centre
Cardiff University's supercomputer is based in the Redwood Building

A new 2.9m high performance computer with the combined power of more than 2,000 conventional lap-tops has been switched on at Cardiff University.

The supercomputer is the third fastest at any UK university and is expected to feature in the top 50 in the world.

It will aid research into cancer, help locate oil and gas, look at tidal power in addition to accurately dating prehistoric burial sites.

The university said it was 10 times faster than anything it had before.

Director of the university's new advanced research computing division, Professor Martyn Guest described the technology and increasing power of the machines as "quite frightening".

The supercomputer is capable of 20 teraflops - which equates to 20 million million operations every second.

"They use the analogy in term of this ability to be able to do all of the homework of all students - school children and undergraduate in the UK - a year's worth of that work, in a matter of a few seconds," he added.

The system will be available to researchers in all disciplines at Cardiff University, allowing them to make calculations and develop computer models which were previously impossible or too time-consuming.

Projects will range from neuroscience and geosciences which looks at volcanic eruptions and plate movements to astrophysics, archaeology and renewable energy.

The computer will enhance the work of a new positron emission tomography (PET) scanner based at Cardiff's University Hospital of Wales which will lead to the detection of cancer at an earlier stage.

Prof Martyn Guest, vice chancellor Dr David Grant and First Minister Rhodri Morgan
First Minister Rhodri Morgan was at the launch in Cardiff

The new 16.4m scanner is a nuclear medicine imaging technique which produces a three-dimensional image or map of functional processes in the body.

Prof Peter Edwards from Cardiff University's school of chemistry said diagnosis would be more effective because the supercomputer would help generate detailed images of tumours.

"Cancer being the second largest killer in the UK, this non invasive procedure would allow earlier detection," Prof Edwards said.

Also projects in astrophysics, chemistry, fluid dynamics and geological simulation will all benefit from the computer

Prof Roger Falconer from Cardiff University's school of engineering said the computer would prove valuable to accurately study the long term impact of a proposed Severn barrage.

He said it would allow them to look at environmental issues, including flood protection, harbour creation or tidal power generation by harnessing the world's second highest tidal range.

Dr Huw Davies from the university's school of earth and ocean sciences said the supercomputer would help him to assess the way the earth had evolved and to get further back in time.

"I'm going to use it to try and build more realists models of how the mantle which is the bit between the crust and the core operates.

"Until we understand the mantle we're really not understanding how the plates moves at the earth's surface," he added.

Dr Davies said he would also be working with Shell to help find oil.

Housed in a new data centre, the university said it would save 30,000 a year by using water-cooled technology from the computer saving on both space and energy costs.

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