NERSCPowering Scientific Discovery for 50 Years

Energy Department to Broaden Peer Review for Use of its Largest Unclassified Computer Center

February 22, 1999

The U.S. Department of Energy today announced a new policy of broader scientific peer review for the use of its largest unclassified scientific computing facility, the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC). To advance the role of computing in DOE's scientific research programs, the department will also establish a new Policy Board to help chart the future of the facility. 

The scientific computing center, currently home to seven SGI/Cray supercomputers, is located at the department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, Calif., and serves about 2,500 researchers at national laboratories, universities and in industry.

"With the recent announcement of the President's proposed $366 million initiative to boost long-term computational science and information technology, it's important to begin laying a strong foundation for those programs," said Under Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. "This new policy for allocating time on our supercomputers will help do just that by using the computers most effectively, as well as making computing a more integral part of how we solve the nation's important scientific problems."

The new policy will help ensure that NERSC becomes a national leader in using high performance computing as a tool for scientific discovery, just as DOE's light sources and particle accelerators are national and international leaders in their areas. As proposals are submitted, they will be subjected to peer review to evaluate: the quality of science; how well the proposed research is aligned with the mission of DOE's Office of Science; and the readiness of the specific application and applicant to fully utilize the computing resources being requested. 

"Computing is becoming a new kind of tool for scientific discovery," said Berkeley Lab Director Charles V. Shank. "We want to ensure that we're getting the best science out of the facility, so we benchmarked how NERSC is managed vis-a-vis other national user facilities operated by DOE. This change is really part of our efforts to reinvent NERSC to better meet the nation's scientific computing needs."

The new approach combines guidelines from DOE, guidance from a policy board and peer review by scientists. The change reflects the ever-broadening role of NERSC since it was founded in 1974 to provide computing resources for magnetic fusion research. Since then, the facility has expanded its scope to include high-energy physics, materials science, computational biology, astrophysics, energy research, chemistry and climate modeling. In 1995, DOE began a process to change the supercomputing center from one which merely provided computing time to researchers to a center with intellectual resources to help scientists find newer and better ways to integrate scientific computing into their research efforts.

The NERSC Program Advisory Committee will be responsible for the new scientific peer review process for proposals to access the facility's computers. This new process will be used to allocate 40 percent of NERSC's computing resources. The peer review and resource allocation process for the remaining 60 percent of NERSC's computing resources will be managed directly by the programs in the department's Office of Science, reflecting their mission priorities.

Because DOE is a mission agency charged with carrying out specific programs related to national needs, the majority of NERSC's resources will be focused on large-scale computational science programs. This research includes DOE's Grand Challenge projects in: understanding magnetic materials, with applications in computer data storage and power generation (this project won the 1998 Gordon Bell Prize); designing advanced particle accelerators; and understanding the chemistry of elements such as uranium to enable more effective cleanup of contaminated DOE sites.

The new policy is also expected to foster "start-up" or special projects that show promise. These are one-time allocations aimed at helping new projects get started, with a goal of applying for more time on NERSC's computers the following fiscal year.

To provide overall policy direction to the center and to help chart its future, Berkeley Lab will establish a NERSC Policy Board. The board will report directly to Lab Director Shank. This approach follows that of other major DOE facilities. Similarly, a national user group will advise NERSC on the current and future delivery of center resources and services.

About NERSC and Berkeley Lab
The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility that serves as the primary high performance computing center for scientific research sponsored by the Office of Science. Located at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, NERSC serves almost 10,000 scientists at national laboratories and universities researching a wide range of problems in climate, fusion energy, materials science, physics, chemistry, computational biology, and other disciplines. Berkeley Lab is a DOE national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy. »Learn more about computing sciences at Berkeley Lab.