It resembles a block of towering, black skyscrapers. It hums like an airplane. You might expect it to power a spaceship or a city of tomorrow.
But it’s right here at Rutgers University.
It’s a supercomputer—the eighth-best among U.S. universities and the 49th-strongest in the world—and its name is Caliburn. Rutgers celebrated the launch of the $10 million powerhouse today, Dec. 15, before an auditorium of researchers, business types and students, to hopes of it being used to help cure diseases, learn about the world and provide a boost to New Jersey companies.
“All these technologies are very, very new,” said Manish Parashar, founding director of the Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute and the man whose vision led to the birth of Caliburn. “They haven’t been used before at this scale.”
After a months-long installation process, the supercomputer went live this summer. Since then, student researchers have used it to display scientific models that are too complex to be imagined, university officials said. Others have used Caliburn as a compass on the path to solving mind-boggling diseases like Parkinson’s.
Ronald Ransome, a physics professor and dean of mathematical and physical sciences, said theoretical physicists can now test hypotheses and experiment in a new realm. Astronomers are simulating galaxies through Caliburn, trying to understand how galaxies, solar systems and even the universe form.
“It’s not something that you can solve with just pen and paper,” Ransome said.
What insiders call “big data”—the sweeping collection of information—can also be used to give businesses a competitive edge. That applies to nearly every industry, from clothing manufacturing to biomedical supplies, Peggy Brennan-Tonetta, RU’s associate vice president of economic development said.
The university intends to strike partnerships with private businesses, which will then use the supercomputer to ultimately make money, she said.
“For industry within the state, this is a game-changer,” she added.
And then consider this: Powerful computers have aided in the development of MRIs, CT scans and robotic surgery, David Foran, chief informatics officer at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, said.
Simply having Caliburn—whose name means “Excalibur,” for King Arthur’s sword, in Olde English—has attracted new talent to the cancer center, Foran said.
“I see Caliburn as being the vehicle that will probably take us to the next set of advances,” he said.
The supercomputer, which was paid for with state money, is also open to other New Jersey universities.