Research aims to examine full impact of UK supercomputer HECToR

Academics are being called on to share their stories of how the UK's once fastest computer has furthered their research - and delivered wider economic and social benefits.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has commissioned a group of independent experts to articulate the scientific, economic and social impact of HECToR, the UK's supercomputer from 2007 to early 2014, when it was replaced by its even faster successor ARCHER.

As part of the project, researchers that used HECToR are encouraged to respond to a brief online survey designed to capture the supercomputer's importance to academia and to the UK as a whole. Everyone who completes the survey will be entered into a draw to win one of five free time allocations on ARCHER.

Eddie Clarke, Senior Project Manager at EPSRC, said: "This report gives academics and their institutions the opportunity to demonstrate the depth and breadth of HECToR's scientific, economic and social impact and their own contribution to that."

"We'd like to really get into how the UK has benefitted from research carried out using HECToR. We know there have been some wonderful, and at times unexpected, outcomes so we hope the user community will engage in this survey process so we can help make sure these results and their achievements are fully recognised."

Housed in a secure location outside Edinburgh, HECToR - or High-End Computing Terascale Resource to give it its full title - boasted a memory that could store 1,000 million million million million bytes of data.

This allowed it to perform 800 million million calculations per second, equivalent to 100,000 calculations per second for every human on the planet.

Its job was to solve the previously unsolvable, its speed allowing it to model real-world situations from complex financial markets to intricate weather patterns.

It helped engineers recommend optimum aircraft designs to reduce engine noise and guided the design of the Bloodhound SSC, a supersonic car that will attempt to attain a 1,000mph world land speed record.

It also mapped how molecules enter cells in order to develop more effective treatments for diabetes and Parkinson's disease. And it even solved the ancient mystery of how a species of dinosaur, the hadrosaur, ran.

Another key role was in training postgraduate students in code development and optimisation as part of the UK's efforts to become a world leader in the sector.

The £113m project was funded by EPSRC, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. HECToR was run under a unique partnership arrangement between EPSRC, which managed the resource, University of Edinburgh's EPCC, UoE HPCx Ltd, NAG Ltd, Cray and STFC Daresbury Laboratory.

Following a public tender process, a consortium of specialists in research evaluation and communication was awarded the project to analyse the impact of HECToR and review the effectiveness of its operating model.

Heading the consortium is Research Consulting Ltd. Director Rob Johnson said: "This is an exciting opportunity to assess the benefits to the United Kingdom of maintaining a cutting edge high performance computing facility. HECToR represented a significant investment of UK taxpayer funds, and we're committed to delivering a robust, independent assessment of the value this has delivered for the scientific community, the UK economy and society at large."

Becky Steliaros, founder of Research in Focus Ltd, is leading the consortium's work on impact evaluation for HECToR. She said: "Given the significant public investment in HECToR, demonstrating the difference it has made to society, the economy, the environment and to research itself is extremely important. Studies such as this one provide evidence for continued investment in research and are more compelling where researchers are able to assist the team in gathering the fullest and most effective examples."

Research impact consultancy Bulletin has designed a creative online presence for the project, where the HECToR survey can be accessed. The website - www.storyofhector.org will also feature the report findings once they are published in January 2015.

Bulletin's Chris O'Brien said: "Digital technology is becoming increasingly important in the communication of academic research. This website engages the user community right through from the beginning of the project to the publication of the final report."

"The group's findings will be integrated into the existing site and serve as a valuable resource for the academic community, funding councils, policymakers and indeed anyone with an interest in technology and how it benefits society."

To contribute to the research, academics and other users of HECToR are being encouraged to complete a short online survey that can be accessed through the project website: www.storyofhector.org.

Please contact Rob Johnson at Research Consulting for more information Tel: 0115 882 0377 or 07795117737