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NCSA celebrates big computing, big data with Petascale Day

“Petascale” refers to computing and data in the quadrillions, like the more than 11 quadrillion calculations Blue Waters will be able to perform and the more than 300 quadrillion bytes that NCSA’s data storage system can handle.

One quadrillion looks like this: 1,000,000,000,000,000, or in scientific notation, 1015. That inspired us to declare 10.15.12 to be Petascale Day! NCSA will host a variety of fun, free activities, from tours of Blue Waters to the screening of a film “starring” a supercomputer named Joshua. Events are open to all, and each venue is wheelchair accessible.

10:15 a.m. – 10:45 a.m., NCSA Auditorium, “What is a Quadrillion?”
Did you know that 1 quadrillion drops of water would fill 20,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools? Or that 1 quadrillion pennies would be worth trillions of dollars? Discover how the amazing speed of the Blue Waters supercomputer (more than 11 quadrillion calculations per second) relates to real life.

11:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m., NCSA Auditorium, Movie: “Dynamic Earth”
This film features visualizations based on satellite monitoring data and advanced supercomputer simulations, including two sequences produced by NCSA’s Advanced Visualization Laboratory. The audience will ride along on swirling ocean and wind currents, dive into the heart of Hurricane Katrina, fly into roiling volcanoes and more while following a trail of energy that flows from the Sun into the interlocking systems that shape our climate. Narrated by Liam Neeson.

11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., NCSA Room 1005, Scientific 3D Visualizations
Scientific visualizations graphically illustrate data to enable scientists to understand, illustrate, and glean insights from it. See how our Milky Way Galaxy possibly formed, roam the ocean floor, be up-close with an F3 tornado, and view other exciting scientific visualizations created by NCSA’s Advanced Visualization Laboratory in stunning 3D high definition in the stereo theater laboratory. The demonstration lasts approximately 15 minutes.

11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., National Petascale Computing Facility, Tour: See the Blue Waters Petascale Supercomputer
Come to the National Petascale Computing Facility for a first-hand look at Blue Waters, a sustained petascale supercomputer capable of performing 1 quadrillion calculations per second, making it one of the world’s fastest supercomputers. You can also take a peek at the infrastructure required for this powerful machine on a self-guided building tour (approximately 30 minutes). (Can’t make it on Petascale Day? Blue Waters tours will also be available Tuesday thru Friday, October 16-19, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.)

2:30 p.m. – 3:10 p.m., Program: Popular Science — “Higgs Boson Discovery: A Success Story of Big Science with Big Data”
This summer’s major scientific discovery had some help from the University of Illinois. Physics professor Mark Neubauer will explain how he and others in the department played an important role in the discovery of a new subatomic particle thought to be the key to the origin of the universe.

3:15 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., Program: Popular Science — “Tornadoes: What We Know So Far (And How Blue Waters Can Help)”
When it comes to tornadoes, Mother Nature often outfoxes us. But that may change, thanks to Blue Waters. Atmospheric research scientist Brian Jewett will tell what they now know about how tornadoes form, what they hope to learn by using Blue Waters, and how that will improve tornado forecasting.

6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., The Art Theater, Movie Night at The Art!
Join us at as NCSA Presents War Games (rated PG). Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy star in this 1983 film about a teenage whiz kid (Broderick) who accidentally hacks into a top-secret government supercomputer, nearly setting off WW III. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the movie begins at 6:30 p.m.

The movie will be followed by a short panel discussion on how supercomputers in reality differ from movie versions. The discussion will be led by Luke Boyce, co-founder of the CU Film Society, and feature University of Illnois professors Julie Turnock, Assistant Professor of Media and Cinema Studies whose expertise is in movies of the 1970s and 1980s as well as special effects, and Bill Gropp, Paul and Cynthia Saylor Professor of Computer Science, Director of the Institute for Advanced Computing Applications and Technologies, and co-principal investigator for the Blue Waters supercomputer.

For more information on Petascale Day, go to If you have questions, please contact Barb Jewett ( | 217-265-0748) or Trish Barker ( | 217-265-8013).

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