There are some pretty impressive facts about how quickly computers have changed to be more powerful. Did you know that an iphone has more than 100,000 times the processing power (processing power is how quickly computers perform their actions) and over a million times more memory than the computer on Apollo 11 – the rocket that went to the moon! In fact, even an everyday calculator has more memory and faster processing speed. It makes that amazing event even more impressive.
If it’s mind blowing that there is more tech in something lots of people carry in their pocket than NASA had to plan a mission into space, what some computers can do now is even more amazing.
The very fastest computers are called SUPER COMPUTERS – they are very large, very complex and work very very fast. Supercomputers can work much more quickly than the human brain so they are used for lots of things that would take us a very long time to work out. Some of the things they are used for are:
- weather forecasting
- simulations (predicting what might happen) for climate change, nuclear bomb detonation, the beginning of the universe
- working out what small chemicals and structures look like, this is called molecular modelling.
Supercomputers are so great because you can just change one thing and it will recalculate everything in an instant rather than humans having to start again.
SO, HOW FAST IS FAST?
The easy answer is very fast! In fact, supercomputers are so fast we measure it in FLOPS which stands for ‘floating operations per second’ which really means how many simple calculations it can do every second. How many calculations do you think would be as fast as you would need? 100 per second? 1000? 10,000? how about a million?
Nowhere near. The number of calculations a supercomputer can do every second is so big that we use the word PENTAFLOP – 1 pentaflop is equal to 1 quadrillion or 1 thousand billion or 1,000,000,000,000,000 calculations every single second. If that wasn’t good enough, the fastest supercomputer in the world at the moment works at 315 pentaflops. That is a LOT of sums!
So next time you are sitting in your maths lesson, just imagine how handy it would be if you could fit a supercomputer in your pocket.
Printable sheet and questions are in our Brainery.