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KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee has entered the ranks of the nation’s elite in using supercomputing to solve the most significant scientific questions facing humanity.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $65 million to UT to build and operate one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers and lead a nationwide partnership to put it to use.

“This is a major national win that places the university in the upper echelon of supercomputing capability. It represents further affirmation of the tremendous capability of the University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge partnership,” said UT President John Petersen. “It will have far-reaching positive impact on economic development for the entire state.”

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen praised the joint success of UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in achieving the NSF funding award.

“I’ve long believed the University of Tennessee has the potential to be a world-class research institution, and this is just the latest in a series of successes by UT and its partners in Oak Ridge that tells me others agree,” Bredesen said. “I’m pleased to see this project come to the Joint Institute for Computational Sciences, and proud of the state’s role in supporting the innovative projects it houses.”

The award is the largest research grant ever received by the University of Tennessee. The partnership proposed in seeking the award and to be led by UT is called the National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS), and will facilitate the use of the new supercomputer.

The project team is led by Thomas Zacharia, UT vice president for science and technology and ORNL associate lab director for computing and computational sciences.

UT Executive Vice President David Millhorn noted the award represents a major milestone in the advancement of American scientific competitiveness.

“This award is an example of how we’re bringing together some of the best and brightest researchers in science, and equipping them with some of the most powerful and technologically advanced tools available in the world,” Millhorn said. “We believe the UT-Oak Ridge partnership is a model for how American competitiveness works.”

The new supercomputer system will be built and deployed in partnership with Cray and AMD, and it will be capable of nearly 1,000 trillion calculations a second (1 petaflops) and will give researchers the tools they need to conduct transformational research in a variety of fields.

Some examples of how the new system is expected to be put to use:

– Astrophysicists will move toward realistic simulations of supernova formation, galaxy evolution, and black hole mergers.

– Climate scientists will get a boost in their efforts to predict extreme weather such as hurricanes and tornadoes as well as long-term climate change and the effects of pollution.

– Earth scientists will be able to perform high-resolution simulations of the earth’s interior and enhance our understanding of the planet’s evolution.

– Materials scientists will be better able to design materials with useful properties.

The system will also enable researchers to develop new knowledge and solutions in areas such as chemistry, biochemistry, particle physics, engineering, and computer science.

“Researchers need increasingly powerful computing resources if they are to deliver the breakthroughs that society demands in climate science, energy research, and other fields,” Zacharia said. “This award will guarantee that we are able to deliver those resources.”

The grant is being issued by the NSF’s Office of Cyber Infrastructure. It includes $30 million for computer hardware as well as $35 million toward operation of the system over the course of the next 5 years.

“This is a significant achievement for the University of Tennessee and we applaud the NSF’s commitment to achieving breakthrough science through world-class high performance computing technologies,” said Peter Ungaro, president and CEO of Cray.

“The Cray XT system will be upgraded over the life of this contract to become one of the largest supercomputers in the world and will allow researchers to tackle the most complex computational problems in existence. With key attributes of exceptional programmability, portability and robustness – and the capability of scaling to unprecedented levels of sustained performance on real applications – this system will enable researchers to work toward achieving the top industry advancements and scientific breakthroughs of our day.”

NICS will be housed in the UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Computational Sciences, the first state-owned building ever built on a national laboratory campus.

The UT-ORNL partnership is home to four new joint institutes, including JICS. Other UT-ORNL joint institutes include the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials, a $45 million facility to be built on UT’s campus; the Joint Institute for Biological Sciences, an $11.8 million facility on the ORNL campus that will be home to the Department of Energy’s new Bioenergy Science Center, a $125 million research endeavor between ORNL, UT and other partners; and the Joint Institute for Neutron Sciences will be built adjacent to the Spallation Neutron Source at ORNL.

Led by UT, the NICS partnership includes academia (Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Louisiana State, North Carolina State, Rice, and Vanderbilt universities; the universities of Houston, Oklahoma, and Virginia; and Virginia Tech), current NSF resource providers (the National Center for Atmospheric Research, ORNL, and Texas Advanced Computing Center), a university consortium (Oak Ridge Associated Universities), and industrial partners (Cray and AMD).


Jay Mayfield (865-974-9409,
Mike Bradley (865-576-9553,

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* Learn more about UT’s newest research venture, Cherokee Farm, when this Web site comes online on Friday, April 4: