IBM, Dutch Scientists to Explore First Moments of Universe

IBM's Blue Gene Supercomputer to Tackle Scientific ``Grand Challenge''

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YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. & DWINGELOO, Netherl & s - 23 Feb 2004: IBM and ASTRON, a leading astronomy organization in the Netherlands, today announced they will use IBM's Blue Gene/L supercomputer technology as the basis to develop a new type of radio telescope capable of looking back billions of years in time.

This joint research project in high data volume supercomputing will help provide astronomers around the world unique insight not otherwise available. Scientists will examine the beginnings of the earliest stars and galaxies after the formation of the universe, known as the Big Bang.

The Blue Gene/L system is expected to be completed by the middle of 2005. Blue Gene/L will give ASTRON the flexibility and unparalleled speed it needs to gather and analyze information from its Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) "software telescope" network. A consortium of universities, research institutes and companies plans to carry out research programs with the telescope when it begins operation a year later.

"Discovery in astronomy goes hand in hand with innovation in technology," said Prof. Harvey Butcher, director at ASTRON. "Together with IBM researchers we hope to learn how to design a new generation of radio telescopes capable of revealing the secrets of the early universe. But there are wider possibilities as well. We are convinced this collaboration with IBM will show the way to a wide variety of applications relating to geophysics and precision agriculture."

The Dutch government's Ministry of Education, Culture and Science is supporting the development of the technologies required for LOFAR, including what will be one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, capable of a peak performance of more than 34 trillion calculations per second, or 34 teraflops. Currently under development in IBM Research, this will be the latest in IBM's Blue Gene family of supercomputers that are poised to tackle other major scientific, business and societal challenges.

"The challenge of processing unprecedented data volumes requires us to raise our technology to a new level," said William Pulleyblank, director of exploratory server systems, IBM Research. "Blue Gene/L provides the flexibility and power to enable us to meet this grand challenge."

Unlike current observatories that use big optical mirrors or radio dishes to point to distant galaxies, ASTRON will harness more than 10,000 simple radio antennas spread across the northern Netherlands and into the German state of Lower Saxony and interpret them using high-speed calculations.

A team of IBM researchers and designers will collaborate with ASTRON scientists to develop a system capable of processing the huge amounts of data in real time. The Blue Gene/L supercomputer is a low-power consuming, compact machine able to receive 768 Giga-bits of new data every second. Over 12,000 PowerPC microprocessors provide the "brains." This new method combines incredible computing power and real-time data streaming to filter out man-made radio noise and distortions from the upper atmosphere, allowing scientists to see farther and more clearly than ever before.

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