Perth will be home to one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, thanks to Australia securing co-hosting rights for the multi-billion-dollar Square Kilometre Array telescope.
The computer, to be housed in the $80 million Pawsey Centre being built at Technology Park in Kensington, will have the capability of 20,000 quad-core desktop computers, processing the equivalent of a million CD-ROMs every minute.
In computing jargon, it will be able to compute 1.5 quadrillion floating point operations every second, or 1.5 petaflops, when fully complete in April 2014.
That would make it more powerful than the 1.2-petaflop supercomputer to be built by Fujitsu at the Australian National University in Canberra.
Overseen by iVEC, a joint venture between the CSIRO and four WA universities (Curtin, Murdoch, Edith Cowan and UWA), the supercomputer will process vast amounts of data from radio telescopes in outback WA, South Africa and New Zealand.
"It's easy enough to collect data with radio telescope dishes and antennae but the tricky bit is having the algorithms fast enough to process the data, to find the things we are looking for in the sky," iVEC acting executive director Paul Nicholls said.
The internationally backed SKA project seeks to find answers to some of the biggest mysteries, such as dark matter, black holes, how galaxies behave and the creation of the universe.
But the supercomputer will also be used by researchers in nanotechnology, geoscience and other areas that have huge data requirements.
The State Government is providing the $20 million operational costs for the Pawsey Centre, which will be connected to smaller iVEC computers at Murdoch University and UWA.
The National Broadband Network fibre link between Perth and Geraldton and the CSIRO-owned link between Geraldton and the SKA base in the Murchison connect the supercomputers to the outback radio telescopes.
Federal Science and Research Minister Chris Evans said winning the rights to co-host the SKA telescope was "far more important than winning the rights to the soccer World Cup".
"It means that for the next 50 years, Australia will be at the forefront of science in the world," Senator Evans said.
"It is a fantastic opportunity for WA. In the middle of the mining boom, we're able to develop world-leading science that will provide benefits for Australia for decades."It shows that not only are we a mining State, we are also a smart State."
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