Digital dinosaurs put bite-sized supercomputer through its paces

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

Wee ARCHIE replicates in miniature high performance computing techniques to simulate races between on-screen Argentinosaurus. It has already proven popular with school pupils at outreach events designed to shed light on the complexities of supercomputing.

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

The portable system displays the types of hardware found inside the world’s fastest, most powerful supercomputers. It was designed and built by the University's science outreach group, FUSION, in collaboration with EPCC.

Dr Lorna Smith, of the ARCHER outreach group at EPCC, said: "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."

Wee ARCHIE 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.

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.

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.