Riverton Student Names New Supercomputer

This story first appeared on Cowboy State Daily

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Riverton middle school student got the opportunity last week to name one of the world’s fastest supercomputers.

Cael Arbogast submitted the winning name “Derecho” for the new system being installed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research Wyoming Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne.

The term “derecho,” derives from the Spanish word for “direct” or “straight ahead,” and refers to a line of powerful and damaging storms that often pack hurricane-force winds and unleash heavy rains and flooding. It’s the type of destructive weather event that scientists hope to learn more about by using the new supercomputer to conduct advanced simulations of atmospheric conditions and other aspects of the Earth’s system.

“I picked this name because a derecho is an intense, widespread and fast-moving windstorm that travels long and great distances bringing many storms with it,” Arbogast wrote with his submission. “This new supercomputer has to move at fast speed for everybody to use all across the country. I thought this name would be a good fit provided that lots of scientists and others will be using this computer all across the country and for weather all throughout the world.”

“Derecho” was selected out of more than 200 submissions from K-12 students all over Wyoming.

Derecho will become operational in early 2022. Built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the supercomputer will have the theoretical ability to perform 19.87 quadrillion calculations per second.

That is about 3.5 times the speed of scientific computing performed by the current NWSC supercomputer, “Cheyenne.”

“We are very excited to have such a meaningful name for this powerful new supercomputer,” said Anke Kamrath, director of NCAR’s Computational & Information Systems Laboratory. “The state of Wyoming has been a wonderful home for the supercomputing center, and we could not be more pleased that ‘Derecho’ comes from a Wyoming student.”

Once it begins operations, Derecho is expected to rank among the top 25 or so fastest supercomputers in the world.

“This name is perfect,” said Ed Synakowski, vice president for research and economic development at the University of Wyoming. “Cael’s suggestion projects intensity, directionality, connectedness and complexity. The name immediately conveys that one is talking about a machine that is exciting and purposeful. The students stepped up beautifully in offering this and other great candidate names for this new system.”

Derecho will be used to advance the Earth system sciences, enabling researchers to better understand a range of phenomena that affect society, from hurricanes and seismic activity to climate change and solar storms.

Although it won’t be used for forecasting, Derecho will help scientists improve the tools needed to better predict severe weather, flooding and other damaging events.

“Our school and community are beyond proud of our student, Cael, for being selected for this prestigious honor,” said Riverton Middle School Principal Aziz Waheed. “To be able to name one of the fastest supercomputers for the National Center for Atmospheric Research is not something many people in the world can say they have done.”

Funding for Derecho, which will cost $35 million to $40 million, comes from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

NCAR also works with Wyoming schools to highlight the importance of scientific research and the opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.

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