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A “flop” is an acronym meaning floating-point-operations per second. One petaflop is 1,000 trillion operations per second. Only two years ago, there were no actual applications where a computer achieved 100 teraflops – a tenth of Roadrunner’s speed – said Turek, noting that the tenfold advancement came over a relatively short time.

The Roadrunner computer, now housed at the IBM research laboratory in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., will be moved next month to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Along with other supercomputers, it will be key “to assure the safety and security of our (weapons) stockpile,” said D’Agostino. With its extraordinary speed it will be able to simulate the performances of a warhead and help weapons scientists track warhead aging, he said.

But the computer – and more so the technology that it represents – marks a future for a wide range of other research and uses. “The technology will be pronounced in its employment across industry in the years to come,” predicted Turek, the IBM executive.

Michael Anastasio, director of the Los Alamos lab, said that for the first six months the computer will be used in unclassified work including activities not related to the weapons program. After that, about three-fourths of the work will involve weapons and other classified government activities.

Anastasio said the computer, in its unclassified applications, is expected to be used not only by Los Alamos scientists but others as well. He said there can be broad applications such as helping to develop a vaccine for the HIV virus, examine the chemistry in the production of cellulosic ethanol, or to understand the origins of the universe.

Turek said the computer represents still another breakthrough, particularly important in these days of expensive energy: It is an energy miser compared with other supercomputers, performing 376 million calculations for every watt of electricity used.

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