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Large Hadron Collider Spawns Largest Computing Grid


The Large Hadron Collider, which so captured the world’s attention last month, may yield secrets of the physical universe. It could also produce a bunch of practical spin-offs.

When fully operational next year, it will certainly spin off a lot of data — enough to fill six CDs a second.

To capture and sift all that information will be the combined crunching power of more than 140 computer centers from 33 countries. Fifteen U.S. universities and three U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories are part of the effort. 

It is the world’s largest computing grid, say researchers who helped put it together.

Illustration above of simulation of LHC experiment courtesy CERN


The Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (WLCG) will analyze and manage more than 15 million gigabytes of LHC data every year, the DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Center said yesterday.

“The U.S. has been an essential partner in the development of the vast distributed computing system that will allow 7,000 scientists around the world to analyze LHC data, complementing its crucial contributions to the construction of the LHC,” said Glen Crawford of the High Energy Physics program in DOE’s Office of Science.

DOE and the National Science Foundation support contributions to the LHC and to the computing and networking infrastructures that are part of the project.

U.S. contributions to the WLCG are coordinated through the Open Science Grid, a national computing infrastructure for science. The Open Science Grid not only contributes computing power for LHC data needs, but also for projects in many other scientific fields including biology, nanotechnology, medicine and climate science.

LHC-grid-2.jpg“Particle physics projects such as the LHC have been a driving force for the development of worldwide computing grids,” said Ed Seidel, director of the National Science Foundation’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure. “The benefits from these grids are now being reaped in areas as diverse as mathematical modeling and drug discovery.”


Dedicated optical fiber networks distribute LHC data from CERN in Geneva, Switzerland to eleven major computer centers in Europe, North America and Asia, including those at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. From these, data is dispatched to more than 140 centers around the world, including 12 in the United States.

Watch a Brookhaven video about the computer grid:



“When the LHC starts running at full speed, it will produce enough data to fill about six CDs per second,” said Michael Ernst, director of Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Tier-1 Computing Center. (Ernst introduces the video above.)

“As the first point of contact for LHC data in the United States, the computing centers at Brookhaven and Fermilab are responsible for storing and distributing a great amount of this data for use by scientists around the country. We’ve spent years ramping up to this point, and now, we’re excited to help uncover some of the numerous secrets nature is still hiding from us.”

Photos above of cables in Fermilab Grid Computing Center courtesy Fermilab

Photos left and below of different aspects of the Large Hadron Collider courtesy of CERN


More from National Geographic News:

Large Hadron Collider “Actually Worked”
Large Hadron Collider Shut Down Until Spring 2009
Large Hadron Collider to Have “Practical” Spin-Offs?

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