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TOP500 Supers make boffins more prolific

Universities with big iron become bigger publishers, better PhD factories

By Richard Chirgwin, 25 Mar 2015

A comparative analysis of supercomputer ownership by US universities seems to suggest that TOP500-class iron gives institutions a quantifiable edge in physics, chemistry, civil engineering and evolutionary biology.

In the kind of rational decision-making that will upset HPC sales teams, the Clemson University research is designed to help US universities make the purchase decision based on economics rather than the more usual “whose super is more super?”

The researchers divided 212 institutions into haves and have-nots according to whether they had a TOP500 entry, and evaluated research efficiency against the number and academic performance of researchers, the number of publications, and the number of PhDs awarded.

Supers double the efficiency of chemistry research, the study found; in civil engineering the payoff was about 35 per cent greater efficiency, while evolutionary biology got an 11 per cent boost and physics was nine per cent more efficient.

Perhaps surprisingly, research output in computer sciences didn't improve with HPC ownership, nor english or economics.

As economist Paul Wilson explains in the university's canned release, the research provides a “first step in creating a model for evaluating investments in high-performance computing”.

The research has been published in the journal Empirical Economics (abstract here). ®

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