UC gains Southern Hemisphere research advantage

Published by Communications and Development

31 May 2007

The University of Canterbury will be the first research institution in the Southern Hemisphere to have an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer, putting it among elite research-led universities such as Harvard University, Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States.

The acquisition of the Blue Gene/L was approved by the University of Canterbury Council at its monthly meeting last night. It will be installed in July.

In announcing the decision, Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Sharp said the Blue Gene, which the University has dubbed "Blue Fern", demonstrates the University's commitment to being a leading research institution.

“Blue Fern will be one of the 25 most powerful supercomputers operating in academia worldwide. Its significant computing power will be available to researchers around New Zealand and will enable research never before possible in this country.

“For example, researchers at the University of Canterbury and the Christchurch School of Medicine will be able to address a number of crucial clinical questions about stroke and diabetes, conditions that affect a large number of New Zealanders,” Professor Sharp said.

“For the first time, they will be able to model blood flow and complex chemical reactions in the entire human brain, and mimic the interactions of the millions of nephrons that make up the human kidney, enabling insights not previously possible in New Zealand.”

Until now, this research has had to focus on individual parts of the brain, or on single nephrons in the kidney, due to limitations in New Zealand 's computational capabilities.

The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, Victoria University of Wellington and AUT University will be foundation partners in the Blue Gene project.

Paul Callaghan, Director of the MacDiarmid Institute, said the Blue Gene will put New Zealand on the world-wide research map. “It will provide our leading researchers with a significant research edge, enabling us to tackle bigger and bigger scientific challenges,” he said.

“Many research projects being undertaken by MacDiarmid Institute researchers around New Zealand will be significantly advanced as a result of having access to the computational capability of the Blue Gene, access which will be enhanced by KAREN – the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network – which the Government has invested in as part of its Digital Strategy.”

IBM New Zealand Managing Director Katrina Troughton said IBM's relationship with the University of Canterbury was the key factor in its decision to work together to install a Blue Gene in New Zealand.

“Our partnership in UCi3, the NZ ICT Innovation Institute, has strengthened our relationship, given us insight into the University's vision and capabilities, and allowed IBM and the University to identify areas of mutual research interest.

“Blue Gene has become an essential research engine for scientists around the world since its introduction in 1999 and is currently working across all the major scientific disciplines, speeding the pace of innovative breakthroughs in biotechnology, nanotechnology, materials science and many other domains,” said Ms Troughton.

“In an interconnected global economy, the ability to conduct world-class research in emerging industries such as renewable energy can give a region or nation a competitive edge.”

Blue Gene is optimised for bandwidth, scalability and the ability to handle large amounts of data. Its modular design allows for computing components – or “racks” – to be added as needed.

The Blue Gene installed at the University of Canterbury will have two racks and will be the most powerful system in New Zealand. It will rank among the Top 100 most powerful supercomputers in the world, based on projections for the TOP500 Supercomputers list to be published in June 2007.

Blue Gene was specifically designed to deliver superior performance per kilowatt of power consumed, and per square meter of floor space occupied. According to, Blue Gene is the world's most energy-efficient supercomputer.

For further information please contact:
John MacDonald
Corporate Affairs Manager
Communications & Development
University of Canterbury     
Phone +64 (3) 364 2910
Mobile +64 (21) 417 289