The quests of scientists have often led them to the invention of adequate apparatus and devices used as a means to get to their goals. Similarly, physicist Gaurav Khanna set out to study gravitational waves, and in his attempt to create the models that he would need, he built a supercomputer out of PS3s himself. The essence of his work has been absorbed by other scientists, and even by the US Air Force Research Laboratory.
Gaurav Khanna next to a supercomputer
The making of cheap supercomputers
Old game consoles can be recycled into supercomputers! Such was the feat brought forth by a black hole physicist of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Gaurav Khanna. From used PlayStation 3s (PS3s), he has made powerful but yet cheap supercomputers. His purpose was to facilitate his research on black holes. Since supercomputers are quite expensive, he decided back in 2009 to make his own for the sake of his research.
Why the need for supercomputers?
Gaurav Khanna’s focus was on gravitational waves, also known as gravity waves. Based on the theory of relativity of Einstein, these are ripples in the curvature of spacetime, propagating as waves. They have never been observed or witnessed by scientists. The gravitational waves occur as a consequence of a violent astrophysical event: this is where black holes come into the picture. The collision of two black holes might lead to their formation. Physicist Gaurav Khanna wanted to explore the possible happenings, and to achieve that, he needed a system that could process information much faster than a normal computer. Therefore, he took it upon himself to make his own supercomputer to be able to create models of black holes colliding into each other.
Khanna explained that the lack of funds, both from the level of the university and the government, impeded the progress of science. He is reported to have affirmed that : “Supercomputing allows scientists to make up for the resources they don’t have.”
The building of supercomputers requires the connection of several standard computers together into a network. Khanna, however, used laptops linking them to PS3s. The investment behind this endeavour was greatly reduced as opposed to the case where he would have gone about the problem the conventional way. He was also assisted by Sony which donated 4 game consoles to him for his experiment. In collaboration with the university, he bought a 12.All 16. He incorporated the operating system, Linux, into the device. He then linked these over the Internet. The calculations that he was able to make from his machines were done 10 times faster than with normal computers.
His work relating to the supercomputer is published in the journal Parallel and Distributed Computing Systems some years ago.
Inspired by his ingeniosity
His device was then used to design models of the gravitational waves. Since 2009, he has published a number of works relating to this subject matter.
Over the years, he has made more and more progress in this department. Other scientists from his university have also found great help in his inventions. On top of this, his work has inspired many others.
Impressed by his creation, the US Air Force Research Laboratory of New York decided to follow in his steps. They built their own supercomputer with 1 760 consoles for the processing of radar image surveillance.
The authorities thereafter showed their gratitude to Khanna by donating 176 PS3s to him and his team, which boosted their work. They now have a supercomputer in a refrigerated shipping container to carry milk, as powerful as 3 000 desktop computers. Relatively speaking, the device is extremely cheap, costing only US $ 75 000.
Future plans: Making supercomputers from PC graphics cards
Khanna and his team do not wish to stop adding up to their machine. Their plans for 2015 include having 220 more PS3s embedded in the existing system, and making another supercomputer with PC graphics cards, which are as cheap and as powerful as 20 PS3s.