'Quokka' supercomputer hops to world mark

Australia's latest supercomputer may not grin like its cute namesake, but it's more green than most and the fastest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Named after the quokka (Setonix brachyurus), the Perth-based supercomputer can crunch a complex calculation that a human brain would take years to achieve.

The recently upgraded Setonix at the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre has been recognised as one of the greenest in the world, ranking fourth on the globally recognised Green500 list.

Usually needing vast amounts of power to stop it overheating, the system is cooled by technology pioneered by CSIRO that will save about seven million litres of water every year.

The supercomputer is powered by a 120-kilowatt solar energy system to cut the carbon footprint.

Setonix was also named as the most powerful public research supercomputer in the Southern Hemisphere, ranking 15th in the global Top500 list.

"It's a great result for Australian science," Pawsey head Mark Stickells told AAP from Dallas, where he was one of more than 10,000 delegates at an international supercomputing conference.

"It's been a proud couple of days we've spent here."

The new rankings announced at the conference puts Sentonix in the company of Europe's best, the LUMI in Finland, and the world's fastest, the Frontier in the United States.

As well as understanding galaxies and new technologies, experts also discussed their response to the pandemic.

"It wasn't all done in a Petri dish in a lab," Mr Stickells said.

"The epidemiology of the spread of the virus - that was largely accelerated through supercomputers that modelled and simulated the virus."

He said supercomputing and their massive datasets acted like a virtual laboratory to accelerate the discovery of vaccines.

The Sentonix system includes 217,088 compute cores that can each take on tasks independently, 768 graphics cores and 1792 sets of computing resources known as total compute nodes.

"It's an energy intensive activity and it's incumbent on us to operate it efficiently and work with scientists to make sure they have the right tools to reduce the energy impact of their science," Mr Stickells said.

Australia runs two nationally significant supercomputers, one in Canberra and the other in Perth.

Both work with universities to supercharge research but the Sentonix will also process astronomy data from the Square Kilometre Array telescope being built in Western Australia.

"We're also doing things that can model at the level of the planet on climate, or at the regional level looking at what's happening in the aquifers beneath us," he said.

Or, for example, monitoring a patient in real time using artificial intelligence to develop medical interventions to save lives.

"There's a human level to what we do - that gets me out of bed in the morning," Mr Stickells said.