CERN’s New Super Computer Links Scientists Worldwide

October 3, 2008

CERN, the world’s largest particle physics lab that created the Worldwide Web, exhibited its newest development on Friday: a computer network allowing some 7,000 scientists in 33 countries to connect and share data and processing power.

Through the new network, the European Organization for Nuclear Research will allow scientists to analyze data from its particle-smashing test that began last month.

The experiment began on September 10 and was shut down nine days later because of a helium leak in the 27 km (17 mile) tunnel of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The project is expected to resume next year. At that time, physicists will have access to real-time data on their computers.

Researchers hope the collaborative effort will reveal new clues about the origins of the universe.

The massive supercomputer grid links more than 100,000 processors at 140 institutes worldwide.

“Many other researchers and projects are already benefiting,” said Ian Bird leader of the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid project. “Grid computing is enabling all-new ways of doing science where large data handling and analysis capabilities are required.”

The amounts of data involved in the largest scientific experiment ever conducted are hard to comprehend.

The LHC experiment involves firing beams of protons in opposite directions around the tunnel buried 100 meters (330 feet) below the French-Swiss border, on the outskirts of Geneva.

At full capacity the LHC will produce 600 million proton collisions per second, producing data 40 million times per second.

These will be filtered down in the four massive subterranean detectors — the largest of which is the size of a five-story building — to 100 collisions of interest per second.

“To analyze that amount of data you require not only a lot of computing but a new computing paradigm — that’s what we call the Grid, and that’s what we’re here to celebrate today,” CERN spokesman James Gillies told a press briefing.

The Worldwide Web, created in 1990 at CERN, brings users together to share information over the Internet. Computer grids will allow linking of computing resources such as data storage capacity and processing power.

CERN has only 10 percent of the computing capacity needed for the LHC experiment, which will allow scientists to observe sub-atomic particles and probe the nature of gravity and matter. The grid will provide the rest.

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