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Bite-sized supercomputer goes on show

A mini supercomputer that powers virtual dinosaur races shows how the world’s most powerful computers work.

The compact machine - called Wee ARCHIE - takes its name from the £43m ARCHER supercomputer at the University’s Advanced Computing Facility.

Wee ARCHIE replicates in miniature high performance computing techniques to simulate races between on-screen dinosaurs.

Parallel computing

Wee ARCHIE and its larger namesake use parallel computing systems, which enable many calculations to be completed instantaneously on different microprocessors.

It was designed and built by the University’s science outreach group, FUSION, in collaboration with the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre.

The machine has already proven popular with school pupils at outreach events designed to shed light on the complexities of supercomputing.

Compact system

The portable system displays the types of hardware found inside the world’s most powerful supercomputers.

It contains 18 credit card-sized processors housed in a custom-made Perspex case.

LED displays on each of the processors light up when they are in use, showing how multiple parts of a parallel computing system work together to perform complex tasks.

Dinosaur racing

The program lets users modify the structure of dinosaurs’ muscles and joints, altering their ability to run.

Wee ARCHIE tests each of the configurations quickly, and presents the results as an on-screen race.

High performance computing

Supercomputers are used for tasks that require huge amounts of processing power, such as weather forecasting and molecular modelling of biological compounds.

They often occupy several thousand square feet.

ARCHER provides high performance computing support for research and industry projects in the UK.

We will use Wee ARCHIE to engage schoolchildren with supercomputing, and show them the huge benefits that the technology can bring to scientific research. We also hope to inspire some of them to take up programming for themselves.

Dr Lorna SmithEdinburgh Parallel Computing Centre