High-performance research computing at Clemson University is discovering answers to complex issues we didn’t even know existed a decade ago. The workhorse behind much of that problem-solving is one of the planet’s largest supercomputers: the Palmetto Cluster — at home in Clemson and at work in the world.

By Heidi Coryell Williams
Illustrations by Chris Koelle

Tiny lights in shades of yellow and blue pulse against a dark backdrop of what looks like rows of high-tech pianos — vertical keys of black and gray tucked into rows of towering rectangles that fill a football field-sized room.

The static state of the machines, save the epileptic lights, belies the energy and intertwined data coursing through a fiber optic grid 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This refrigerated space is set inside a quiet research campus on the rural outskirts of Anderson County, South Carolina. Apart but not far from Clemson’s main campus, it is intentionally integrated into some of the most cutting-edge research happening on campus and nationwide.

This hub of computational research is called the Palmetto Cluster, one of the largest supercomputers in the country, ranked fourth among U.S. academic systems on the Top500 list. Powered by both cutting-edge technology and inquisitive human researchers, the Palmetto Cluster is generating answers to big questions — huge ones — queries so expansive that the world’s most knowledgeable researchers did not even know to ask many of them, much less have the capacity to answer them, as recently as a decade ago.

Since its inception in 2007, the Palmetto Cluster has been impressive for its massive amounts of storage and processing speed. But it is the people behind the cluster, and the questions they are asking, that position the cluster and Clemson to be able to continue expanding and connecting with innovative people and ideas all around the world.

The cluster is the result of a partnership between Clemson faculty and the University’s information technology administrators to give high-performance computing capabilities to researchers at all levels. And it makes the University competitive for research grants and contracts that contribute to Clemson’s classification as a major research university.

→  Read on for a glimpse of the combined work Clemson researchers and the Palmetto Cluster are doing as they explore six big questions — and share some surprising answers.

QUESTION 1 of 6:

Can We Feed the World in a Healthy Sustainable Way?

EXPLORE OTHER QUESTIONS

QUESTION 2:

Can we find better ways to treat cancer?

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QUESTION 3:

Will we be driving cars, or will they be driving us?

Learn More →

QUESTION 4:

Future of medicine — man or machine?

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QUESTION 5:

Can we save the planet from one of its most damaging pollutants?

Learn More →

QUESTION 6:

What is the future of banking?

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Heidi Coryell Williams is the director of Writing and Editing Services at Clemson University.

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