Research funding is running out. Yes, you heard it right, government aid is becoming increasing hard to come by due to economic instability. We are so close to many outstanding breakthroughs in science, but unfortunately, we are strapped! So, what does one man do in order to conduct research on his own? He builds a supercomputer from PlayStation 3 consoles!
Yes, it can be done! Dr. Gaurav Khanna built a supercomputer from PS3 game consoles and has managed to publish several papers on his research. It all started in 2007, when Khanna, a black hole physicist at Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire, began his journey on a budget. The focus of his research was measuring gravitational waves, or ripples created by moving masses or black holes.
The problem with gravitational waves
Unfortunately, many gravitational waves cannot be effectively detected by scientific instruments, due to the fact that by the time they reach us, they are extremely weak. As these waves move from their source, they decrease rapidly in strength. Khanna did not, however, build an instrument strong enough to pick up these waves. Instead, he built his supercomputer to simulate black hole collisions, closer to home. This allows the study of gravitational waves without trying desperately to detect very faint or impossible indicators.
The magic of the supercomputer
How does the supercomputer work? Supercomputers have the ability to crunch numbers that single processers cannot handle. In fact, this machine can do 10 times the job of a single desktop computer. So, in order to build a supercomputer, it would take many single desktops or PCs to build this amazing instrument. There is another way, however, and Khanna was ingenious enough to discover this budget solution — the PlayStation 3. PlayStation 3 consoles have the ability to link and share processors. To build his supercomputer, it took 16 PS3 consoles: eight were donated by the university, four by Sony and Khanna paid for the remaining 4 units that were needed.
Two years later, Khanna published a paper sharing the results of his black hole/gravitational wave study. He was able to share details about reactions of the gravitational wave to the simulated black hole. His supercomputer did indeed provide 10 times the calculating power of ordinary desktop computers, and that is not all…
The Air force contacted Khanna with a request for help with urban surveillance projects. A donation of 176 consoles created a supercomputer as powerful as 3,000 laptops. This new supercomputer was priced at $75,000, which helped Khanna publish two more papers on black hole collisions. Wow! What an amazing turn of events! With good news, however, there are drawbacks as well.
The only drawback to this budget supercomputer is the shortage of memory, which PS3 is notorious for lacking. Khanna has recently been considering using PC graphic cards instead. This exchange will work just as well and prove to be inexpensive to boot! I guess the problem is solved!
If you cannot build an instrument powerful enough to study the gravitational waves from the universe, I say make your own universe with the instruments themselves. It sounds odd, but apparently it works just fine for Khanna. Researchers are amazed by Khanna’s work and strive to discover other ways to make science just a little more affordable to enjoy.