Saudi supercomputer lures researchers

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia Mon Oct 20, 2008 11:32am EDT

1 of 3. A view of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) under construction near Jeddah October 19, 2008. The university in Saudi Arabia will house one of the world's largest supercomputers and it is helping lure top researchers to the conservative desert state.

Credit: Reuters/Asma Alsharif

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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - A new science and technology university in Saudi Arabia will house one of the world's largest supercomputers and it is helping lure top researchers to the conservative desert state.

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is due to open next year on the Red Sea coast near Jeddah, the most liberal city in a country where religious conservatives have extensive control over society.

Inside the campus, male and female students will be able to mingle freely, contrary to strict gender segregation enforced in most of the country. The university is part of a series of reforms by King Abdullah aiming to open the country up.

"The supercomputer is the cornerstone of this knowledge-based economy that we are seeking," said Majid Al-Ghaslan, in charge of the acquisition, design and development of the "Shaheen" supercomputer.

Named after the peregrine falcon, which reaches speeds of up to 340 kilometers per hour, Shaheen is expected to reach 222 teraflops, a measure equaling a trillion floating point operations per second, Ghaslan said. This will make it sixth most powerful computer in the world.

Shaheen will be able to simulate the Red Sea environment and model oil fields in three dimensions.

Although Saudi Arabia has immense financial resources as the world's biggest oil exporter, the parameters of school and university education are governed by religious strictures and many subjects are even off-limits for women to study.

The new university will offer research in biosciences and bioengineering, material sciences and engineering, applied mathematics and computational sciences.

With a $10 billion donation to its endowment from King Abdullah, it is able to lure experts from around the globe with the promise of almost unlimited funding for research work.

"KAUST is a remarkable addition to the world's resources in high-end computing," said David Keyes, Chair of the Mathematical and Computer Sciences and Engineering Division, who is moving from Columbia University in the United States.

"The machine that is being purchased here is one of the main attractions to me," he said.

The supercomputer will be used by KAUST and its partners including Cornell University, the University of Oxford, Stanford University, and Texas A&M University.

(Editing by Andrew Hammond and Dominic Evans)

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