UT unveils the fastest computer in Texas
Supercomputer does more math in 1 second than human can in 500,000 years
From: Austin American Statesman, November 15, 1996
By Dick Stanley, American-Statesman Staff
When the blue curtains parted, Lonestar didn't blink or stir.
The dozens of University of Texas scientists milling around it did.
They came to the J.J. Pickle Research Campus in North Austin for Thursday's unveiling of
UT's newest and fastest supercomputer, nicknamed Lonestar.
They wanted a look at the machine they will use for computer modeling - an increasingly
common scientific method of visualizing such inaccessible things as exploding stars and
hidden petroleum reserves under Alaska.
The $1.8 million Cray T3-E Massively Parallel Computing System - three gray 6-by-6 foot
metal boxes filled with 44 microprocessors and 26 hard-disk drives - is expected to do it
quicker and better than anything now available to them.
"It's the fastest in Texas," said Mary Wheeler, the engineer-director of UT's Center for
So how fast is it? Scientists said Lonestar, which will be networked to computer terminals
on the main UT-Austin campus, can perform more calculations in one second than a
person could do by hand in 500,000 years.
That, they said, is 24 billion arithmetic operations a second, known in computer trade as
Lonestar's potential stakeholders are a varied lot.
British Petroleum, a financial backer of Wheeler's center, wants her to use it to find hidden
petroleum reserves in Prudhoe bay, Alaska.
The Air Force is counting on Gary Pope, a UT petroleum engineer, to help clean up
contaminated ground water at a base in Utah. Lonestar will help Pope figure out how to
J. Craig Wheeler, an astronomer who is not related to Mary Wheeler, wants "to model
exploding stars, by taking into account all the multidimensional aspects, and you need a
big computer to do it."
Whooping cranes were on Bill Longley's mind.
The endangered birds depend on blue crabs in estuaries along the Gulf Coast where
freshwater rivers mix with the saltwater.
The crabs need just the right salinity to survive.
"We want to determine the mix of flows and how to keep it just right while letting people
use the water too," said Longley, an ecologist with the Texas Water Development Board.