NIH Supercomputers Have Come a Long Way

Not so super now: Exhibit on NIH supercomputing has modest debut.
Not so super now: Exhibit on NIH supercomputing has modest debut.

Those tall, gray metal slabs nestled in the corner near the Bldg. 31 C-wing B3 elevators are not remnants of a defunct escalator. They are, in fact, a piece of fascinating history: NIH’s first supercomputer—the Cray X-MP/22.

The Cray on display was the world’s fastest supercomputer from 1983 to 1986, and the first one devoted solely to biomedical research. At capacity, it could perform 400 million calculations per second.

By today’s standards, this Cray may seem rudimentary. But during the time it was used at NIH, from 1986 to 1992, “When you consider the alternative, sitting with paper and pencil or calculator, or even an abacus as at least one scientist did, this computer did quite a lot,” said Michele Lyons, curator, Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum.

The Cray X-MP/22, which had a price tag in the tens of millions of dollars, was the first supercomputer to contain dual processors that could be accessed simultaneously by one program. NCI’s Laboratory of Mathematical Biology used the Cray to study molecular structure and conduct image processing, statistical analysis, basic DNA sequencing and crystallography.

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‘RECALIBRATED WARRIOR’
Injured Veteran Shares Inspiring Story

Travis Mills
Travis Mills

A bad day at work usually doesn’t have lifelong repercussions. When Travis Mills had a bad day at work—on Apr. 10, 2012—it would affect every day of his life going forward. Mills, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant, lost all four limbs that day, during his third deployment in Afghanistan. Yet he’s not just surviving, he’s inspiring countless others through his determination, humor and optimism.

Just don’t call him wounded. “I hate being called wounded,” Mills told the crowd during a recent Deputy Director for Management seminar in Masur Auditorium. “I prefer recalibrated warrior.”

Mills is 1 of only 5 servicemen from the Iran and Afghanistan wars to survive injuries as a quadruple amputee. On that hot April day in Afghanistan, he and his troops strapped on gear to sweep the ground for bombs. They didn’t find any until Mills tossed down his backpack, which landed on a bomb. The explosion nearly killed him and injured two other soldiers.

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