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Time is Ticking Away for NERSC Time Capsule of ‘Exotic Tech’

Mysterious orange canisters were sealed in 2006 with goal of opening at SC20 conference

May 29, 2020


Then-NERSC manager Bill Kramer with the mysterious orange canisters in 2006.

In 2006, staff members at NERSC created a time capsule, filling two bright orange canisters with various bits of then-current technology and sealing them up to be opened at a future date.

Written on the outside of each container are the words "DO NOT OPEN UNTIL SC2020." This year's conference is scheduled to be held Nov. 15-20 in Atlanta. The canisters also list former NERSC General Manager Bill Kramer as the contact. Kramer left NERSC in 2008, leaving the time capsule behind.

The contents are officially a mystery, though the canisters are also labeled "SC06 EXOTIC TECH." One clue to what's inside is a link to a web page from the SC06 conference in Orlando.

"New for 2006, the Exotic Technologies Initiative is a search for innovative technologies with the potential to make a major impact on high performance computing over the next 15 years," the page states. “Technologies such as field programmable gate arrays, multi-core chips, holographic storage, and novel cooling techniques may offer near-term benefits, while quantum computing, chip level optical interconnect and fundamental material breakthroughs offer potential paradigm changing benefits over the long term.

"Each year, we discuss what will be the best system at our next SC meeting, but SC06 will be different. Instead of looking one, two or three years ahead, the SC06 Exotic Technologies Initiative will create a forum for dialogue about what will be the hottest systems at SC2020."

At the time the time capsule was created, NERSC was located in the Oakland Scientific Facility (OSF) in downtown Oakland. The center's flagship system at the time was Seaborg, an IBM SP system using the POWER 3+ processor. With 6,656 cores, Seaborg had a peak performance of just under 10 gigaflops.

Brent Draney of NERSC's Building Infrastructure team brought the canisters out of hiding earlier this year and is making plans to reveal the contents in Atlanta in November.

"The time capsule is a symbol of the end of an era at OSF," Draney said. "One of the last things we did there was to move the time capsule to Shyh Wang Hall for safekeeping until we can, hopefully, open it at SC20."

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, the NERSC Center serves more than 7,000 scientists at national laboratories and universities researching a wide range of problems in combustion, climate modeling, 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.