The Vision and Supercomputers Powering the DOE's Office of Science's INCITE Program

Over the past 30 years, the DOE's supercomputing program has played an increasingly important role in scientific research by allowing scientists to create more accurate models of complex processes, simulate problems once thought to be impossible, and to analyze the increasing amount of data generated by experiments. To help the research communities fully tap into the capabilities of current and future supercomputers, Under Secretary for Science Raymond Orbach launched the Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program in 2003. The INCITE program was conceived specifically to seek out computationally intensive, large-scale research projects with the potential to significantly advance key areas in science and engineering. The program encourages proposals from universities, other research institutions and industry.

To advance scientific discovery, DOE supports national leadership computing facilities housing some of the most advanced supercomputers. In November 2009, computers at these facilities were ranked within the top 5 on the TOP500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers. But the INCITE program goes beyond providing access to supercomputers. A key aspect of the program is to connect leaders of the projects with scientific and technical staff at the computing facilities. These staff, who are often scientists with a strong interest in computing, work closely with INCITE researchers to maximize the scientific output from the computer runs.

Since 1974, DOE’s Office of Science, the single nation’s largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences, has provided supercomputing resources for unclassified research through the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. During the first two years of the INCITE program, 10 percent of the resources at NERSC were allocated to INCITE awardees. However, demand for supercomputing resources far exceeded available systems and in 2003, the Office of Science identified increasing computing capability by a factor of 100 as the second priority on its Facilities of the Future list. As a result of a peer-reviewed competition, the first Leadership Computing facility was established at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2004. A second Leadership Computing facility was established at Argonne National Laboratory in 2006. This expansion of computational resources led to a corresponding expansion of the INCITE program. In 2010, The Leadership Computing Facilities at Argonne and Oak Ridge National Laboratories will provide over one billion processor hours to the INCITE program.