The petascale Jaguar is the nation's fastest computer, but the DOE wants to take computing to the next level.

Over the last week, we managed to get some of the nation’s biggest and baddest supercomputers to take a moment away from their gigabusy schedules and tell us what they were working on. They were happy to share.

Name: Jaguar

Ranking: 3 (an ongoing upgrade should make it no. 1 by 2013)

Vital Stats: System: Cray XT5-HE. Processor: AMD x86_64 Opteron Six Core 2600 MHz. There are 224,162 cores in there, producing 2.3 million billion calculations per second (petaflops). With a pending upgrade that number should be more like 300,000 cores, including a bunch of GPUs optimized for parallel computing problems. This is the world’s third-largest–soon-to-be largest once again–supercomputer. Oak Ridge National Labs’ world-beating platform works on everything from nuclear physics to clean energy science to nano-scale materials modeling.

So What Are You Working On Today?

• Calculating a water molecule’s adsorption energy and geometry on a sheet of graphene, which could greatly inform our understandings of both hydrogen storage in batteries and corrosion on surfaces.

• Defining the structure of atomic nuclei via research that could inform everything from nuclear fission and fusion to carbon-dating to nuclear physics on the whole.

• Modeling various industrial catalysts, the likes of which could boost industry in a range of sectors–including energy and pharmaceuticals–as well as advance clean energy production, storage, and transmission.

• Exploring battery chemistry, particularly as it pertains to rechargeable lithium-air batteries that could hold ten times the energy of lithium-ion batteries of the same weight (think better electric cars).

• Simulating new kinds of light water reactor technology that could extend the life of next-gen nuclear plants.

• Simulating diamond nanocrystals simply to better understand their properties, which could have impacts anywhere from chemical engineering to materials science.

• Working on the next big steps toward constructing ITER, the international experimental nuclear fusion reactor.

All that? Not bad for a day’s work! When Jaguar’s upgrade is complete in late 2012 or early 2013, it will jump from 2.3 petaflops to a peak performance somewhere between 10 and 20 petaflops (that’s 10-20 million billion calculations per second). No wonder, then, that ORNL will be renaming the supercomputer Titan.