Design & Simulation

Canada creates biggest calculator

Nov 01, 2004

r. Paul Lu, a professor at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, harnessed the power of 4,000 computers across the country to condense 20 years worth of computing work into 48 hours. This is the third such endeavor Lu has led as part of the Trellis Project.

In September, Lu had more than 4,000 computers at 19 universities, three research institutions and six high-performance computing consortia working together. By linking these computers, Lu created a virtual supercomputer. This allowed researchers at the University of Calgary and Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children to gain insight into several problems that would otherwise be too large for one research group or institution to study.


A University of Calgary team headed by Dr. Peter Tieleman benefited from the Trellis Project. Tieleman’s team is studying an important step in the folding process of proteins. To study this process, they use detailed mathematical models that describe how the atoms in the protein interact. Computer simulations trace the motions of tens of thousands of atoms, showing in “real time” how a protein might fold. Misfolding can lead to disorders such as Alzheimer’s and “mad cow” diseases.


The Trellis Project also aided a study at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, which examined the way protons are transported across biological membranes. This phenomenon is considered one of the most important chemical reactions in life. The physical basis for this reaction is difficult to characterize since a high level of molecular detail is required to understand how proton transport arises and how it is coupled to other reactions.

Lu said that while he and his colleagues are learning a lot about enormous computing projects, scientists are working on important biochemistry research.