Singapore to build $6.8M life sciences supercomputer

Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Compaq Computer Corp. are to jointly build the infrastructure for Singapore’s new Bioinformatics Research Centre (BIRC), the parties announced in a statement Tuesday.

The S$12.4 million (US$6.8 million) computing infrastructure will be centred around a supercomputer that will be the largest system dedicated to life sciences research in the Asia-Pacific region outside Japan and will be one of the top 80 supercomputers in the world when it is completed in early 2003, according to the statement.

Compaq will equip BIRC with an AlphaServer cluster that has 64 nodes with a maximum processing speed of 512 gigaflops (billion floating-point operations per second), connected to approximately 130 terminal stations.

The aim of BIRC is to strengthen the links between molecular biology and computational science, according to NTU president Cham Tao Soon. The supercomputer will enable scientists to simulate experiments in the supercomputer before they try to make pharmaceuticals in their laboratories, leading to speedier, less costly drug trials, Cham said.

BIRC will focus on education, research and development, and human-resource training in bioinformatics at NTU, using bioinformatics modelling and computation, and will foster cross-disciplinary interactions among the different schools at NTU to perform advanced research in bioinformatics, the parties said.

Singapore has designated life sciences as one the main pillars of its economy going forward, partly to reduce the island-state’s heavy reliance on the electronics sector. It is building a national BioMedical grid, an information network for sharing information and processing information gleaned from genetic research.

BIRC will be connected to the BioMedical grid and other research centres at NTU and overseas via an extremely high-bandwidth connection to allow fast and secure sharing of biomedical data both within Singapore and with its overseas counterparts, the parties said.