Discover how supercomputers work and the real-life scientific breakthroughs made possible by today’s computer simulations.

13,311 enrolled on this course


Today’s supercomputers are the most powerful calculating machines ever invented, capable of performing more than a thousand million million calculations every second. This gives scientists and engineers a powerful new tool to study the natural world – computer simulation.

This run of the course will be unfacilitated, meaning that the educators won’t be able to join the discussions themselves or respond to individual comments. However, the course still encourages a strong learning community focussed around debate and discussion - supporting other learners, sharing your own experience and knowledge, and listening to new perspectives.

Using supercomputers, we can now conduct virtual experiments that are impossible in the real world – from looking deep inside individual atoms, to studying the future climate of the earth and following the evolution of the entire universe from the big bang.

Discover how supercomputers are powering scientific breakthroughs

This free online course will introduce you to what supercomputers are, how they are used and how we can exploit their full computational potential to make scientific breakthroughs.

Over five weeks, we’ll look at:

  • supercomputers: introducing supercomputing terminology and some of the largest machines in the world.
  • parallel computers: how they are built from hundreds of thousands of CPUs, each similar to those in a desktop PC.
  • parallel computing: using parallel processing to harness the power of all of those CPUs for a single calculation.
  • computer simulation: how we can perform virtual experiments to make real-life predictions.
  • case studies: how supercomputing is making scientific breakthroughs that were never possible before.

Learn with Europe’s leading supercomputing experts

This supercomputing course has been developed by the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) and the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC) at The University of Edinburgh in collaboration with SURFsara from The Netherlands.

PRACE coordinates many of the largest supercomputers in Europe, so has world-leading experience of the benefits that supercomputing can bring.

EPCC is a PRACE partner, operates the UK national supercomputer ARCHER and has a long history of developing and delivering training.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Over the past few decades scientists and engineers have acquired a powerful new tool to complement traditional

Skip to 0 minutes and 19 seconds theory and experiment: computer simulation.

Skip to 0 minutes and 25 seconds The largest simulations require the use of massive supercomputers, machines with the highest performance in the world. From the structure of the entire universe to the structure of a single atom, supercomputers are key to our understanding of the world around us.

Skip to 0 minutes and 43 seconds They help us predict the weather and understand the structure of new materials. But what is a supercomputer and where does it get its enormous power? How similar is it to the laptop you might be using right now, or to your home games console? In this introductory online course, we will demystify the area of Supercomputing and explain how they are built and how they are able to perform such massive computer simulations using parallel processing. No programming or scientific background is necessary.

Skip to 1 minute and 16 seconds Click “join now” and join us as we explore the fascinating world of Supercomputing.

What topics will you cover?

  • Supercomputers: introducing supercomputing terminology and some of the largest machines in the world
  • Parallel computers: how they are built from hundreds of thousands of CPUs, each similar to those in a desktop PC
  • Parallel computing: using parallel processing to harness the power of all of those CPUs for a single calculation
  • Computer simulation: how we can perform virtual experiments to make real-life predictions
  • Case studies: how supercomputing is making scientific breakthroughs that were never possible before

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Describe how the performance of modern supercomputers is measured and achieved
  • Explain why they are built from thousands of simple processors
  • Compare the architectures of shared-memory and distributed-memory computers
  • Describe the shared-variables and message-passing programming models
  • Summarise why computer simulation is a fundamental component of modern scientific discovery
  • Investigate simple problems and look for opportunities for parallel processing
  • Discuss the limitations of parallel computing
  • Identify examples of scientific areas where computer simulation is used
  • Discuss the upcoming challenges of building exascale supercomputers

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in leading-edge computing technology, supercomputers or the role that computer simulation takes in modern science and engineering.

All of the technical aspects will be covered at a conceptual level and there is no requirement to be able to write computer programs. However, anyone with existing programming experience will learn how programming modern supercomputers differs from programming a home PC.

What do people say about this course?

"I particularly enjoyed the supercomputing course and have derived much useful further thinking from the course content. Another great part of that particular course was the quality of the discussions which was superb in my opinion."

Who will you learn with?

I have been working with supercomputers for over 25 years, and teaching people how to use them for almost as long. I joined EPCC after doing research in computational theoretical physics.

My academic background is in physics but after getting interested in the computation side of science I did an MSc in HPC. Now I work at EPCC and spend my free time travelling, hillwalking and reading.

Who developed the course?

Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE)

The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) is an international non-profit association with its seat in Brussels.

The University of Edinburgh

Founded in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is one of the world’s top universities and is globally recognised for research, innovation and high-quality teaching.


SURFsara creates a bridge between research and advanced ICT.

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