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A supercomputer is a computer with the fastest processing speed in the world as at the time of its introduction. Theses computers are used for numerically intensive tasks such scientific simulations, weather forecasting, geological data analysis, molecular modelling, nuclear energy research and structural analysis. The speed of these computers is calculated by the number of floating point operations per second (FLOPS) they can do, the higher the FLOPS, the faster the computer.

Supercomputers are specially designed to be extremely quick at handling huge amounts of numerical calculations, however they tend to perform poorly when carrying out more generic computing functions. Their operating systems are variants of UNIX and tend not to be suitable for use in smaller computers.


Seymour Cray (1925 – 1996) is regarded as the father of supercomputers; he designed many of the supercomputers in throughout the 1960s to the 1980s through his companies. He co-founded Control Data Corporation in 1957 and left them in 1972 to form Cray Research, which he again left in 1989 to found Cray Computer Corporation. For many years Cray and his companies dominated supercomputing, however of the late the other companies such as IBM and Thinking Machines Corporation have begun to provide some competition with some of their products.

While military and scientific agencies continue to be the major consumers of supercomputers, they are some areas of healthcare where they have been applied.

Scientists at the American National Cancer Institute use the IBM SP Power3 to speed up research into the causes and treatments for diseases such as cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer’s Disease. United Healthcare, based in the United States, uses also uses an IBM supercomputer to manage health benefit products from Medicare and Medicaid.

In the United Kingdom, Pharmaceutical Stevenage uses a supercomputer to speed up critical drug designs, while in Germany, at the German Centre for Scientific Computing, one is used to run several projects in the field of medical visualisation.



International Medical Informatics Association
American Medical Informatics Association
UK Health Informatics Society
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society

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Last Updated: 10 August 2006.

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