Wyoming middle school student names new supercomputer “Derecho”

A Wyoming middle school student has won a statewide competition to name one of the world’s fastest supercomputers.

The winning name, Derecho, is for the new system currently being installed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) in Cheyenne. It was selected out of more than 200 submissions from Wyoming K-12 students as part of a naming competition that NCAR conducted in partnership with the Wyoming Department of Education and the Wyoming Governor’s Office.

“We are very excited to have such a meaningful name for this powerful new supercomputer,” said Anke Kamrath, director of NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory. “The state of Wyoming has been a wonderful home for the supercomputing center, and we could not be more pleased that ‘Derecho’ comes from a Wyoming student.”

The term “derecho,” derived from the Spanish word for “direct” or “straight ahead,” refers to a line of powerful and damaging storms that often pack hurricane-force winds and unleash heavy rains and flooding. It’s the type of destructive weather event that scientists hope to learn more about by using the new supercomputer for advanced simulations of the atmosphere and other aspects of the Earth system.

The name was submitted by Cael Arbogast, a student at Riverton Middle School in the Fremont County School District 25 of Wyoming.

“I picked this name because a derecho is an intense, widespread, and fast-moving windstorm that travels long and great distances bringing many storms with it,” Cael wrote with his submission. “This new supercomputer has to move at fast speed for everybody to use all across the country. I thought this name would be a good fit provided that lots of scientists and others will be using this computer all across the country and for weather all throughout the world.”

 “Our school and community are beyond proud of our student, Cael, for being selected for this prestigious honor,” said Aziz Waheed, the principal of Riverton Middle School. “To be able to name one of the fastest supercomputers for the National Center for Atmospheric Research is not something many people in the world can say they have done.” 

“Hats off to Cael and the NWSC,” said Jillian Balow, Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Derecho is similar to a ‘perfect storm’ and that’s what we have here. Cael and his classmates have the opportunity to learn computer science in school and Wyoming maintains its status as a global leader in supercomputing.”

Advancing research to help society

Derecho will become operational in early 2022. Built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the supercomputer will be a 19.87-petaflops system, meaning it will have the theoretical ability to perform 19.87 quadrillion calculations per second. That is about 3.5 times the speed of scientific computing performed by the current NWSC supercomputer, Cheyenne.

Once it begins operations, Derecho is expected to rank among the top 25 or so fastest supercomputers in the world.

It will be used to advance the Earth system sciences, enabling researchers to better understand a range of phenomena that affect society, from hurricanes and seismic activity to climate change and solar storms. Although it will not be used for forecasting, Derecho will help scientists improve the tools needed to better predict severe weather, flooding, and other damaging events.

Funding for Derecho, which will cost $35-$40 million, comes from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NWSC is funded by NSF and the state of Wyoming through an appropriation to the University of Wyoming, and with support from Cheyenne LEADS, the Wyoming Business Council, and Black Hills Energy.

“This name is perfect,” said Ed Synakowski, vice president of research and economic development at the University of Wyoming. “Cael’s suggestion projects intensity, directionality, connectedness, and complexity. The name immediately conveys that one is talking about a machine that is exciting and purposeful. The students stepped up beautifully in offering this and other great candidate names for this new system.”

Since the NWSC opened its doors in 2012, more than 4,000 users from more than 575 universities and other institutions across the nation and overseas have used its resources. NCAR also works with Wyoming schools to highlight the importance of scientific research and the opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.

“As a supercomputer that will be supporting solutions to some of the most complex weather and climate research questions of our time, it is fitting that Derecho is named for such a distinct weather event,” said NCAR director Everette Joseph. “We very much appreciate all the thoughtfulness that Cael put into submitting the new name, and we hope the experience of the contest is an inspiration to the students who participated to consider a career in STEM.”

Antonio Busalacchi, the president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which manages NCAR on behalf of NSF, said he was gratified by the outcome of the contest.

“Given how much we value our partnership with the state of Wyoming, we thought this naming contest would be an exciting way to engage the youth in Wyoming,” he said. “At the same time, it highlights the importance of STEM education and related career paths.”