HSU Students Create University’s Second Supercomputer

Humboldt State students are building the university’s second supercomputer—a highly powerful machine that will support hands-on research in a variety of disciplines.

At 115 trillion calculations per second, the computer is approximately 50 thousand times faster than a standard laptop, says Mathematics Professor Ken Owens.


“Not only did we make it powerful, we made it green,” says Tim Lauck, a faculty member in Mathematics who worked with several undergraduate and graduate students to develop and assemble the machine.

HSU's supercomputer performs 20 billion calculations per watt, making it highly-energy efficient.

“The greener the parts you use, the more efficient it is and the cheaper it becomes,” says Brian Page (’16, Computer Science), who helped develop the super fast and green design.

Super computers are notoriously pricey to operate, due to the large amount of electricity needed to power and cool them. HSU’s computer uses a water cooling system—water is piped through the computer to prevent overheating—the same technology used by some of the greenest supercomputers in the world, Owens says.

For the past several years, Owens, Lauck and a team of students have been using the university's existing supercomputer to research nuclear fusion—the process by which the sun creates energy. With its highly powerful processing speed, the new computer will allow them to work on larger amounts of data and tackle more complex equations.

"It will allow us to do parallel computing, which in this case, means we'll be able to examine many fusion reactions concurrently," Owens says. Parallel computing allows researchers to break larger problems into smaller chunks, so that many calculations can be carried out simultaneously.

Owens and his students will be contributing to a worldwide effort on how to generate clean energy from nuclear fusion. "By making supercomputer simulations of burning plasma, we’re hoping to provide some insight to a growing body of research,” Owens says.

“It is fantastic that HSU can provide its students opportunities to work on projects like this,” says Steven Margell (’16, Masters of Science in Environmental Systems Mathematical Modeling), who helped design and build the computer.

HSU's supercomputer was funded through a Humboldt Loyalty Fund grant from the President's Office. The university's first super computer was also designed and built by students and faculty in the Departments of Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science with National Science Foundation funding.