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Free online course


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


  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, starting from when you join
  • No access to course tests
  • No certificate


  • Unlimited access to the course for as long as it exists on FutureLearn
  • Access to course tests
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more



Why join the 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.

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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When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

What will you achieve?

  • 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

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.

Who will you learn with?

David Henty

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.

Who developed the course?

Get extra benefits, upgrade this course. For £59 you’ll get:

Unlimited access

Upgrading will mean you get unlimited access to the course.

  • Take the course at your own pace
  • Refer to the material at any point in future

If you’re taking a course for free you have access to the course for its duration + 14 days, starting from when you join. If you upgrade the course you have access for as long as the course exists on FutureLearn.

Access to tests

When you upgrade you’ll have access to any tests during the course.

  • Validate your learning
  • Ensure you have mastered the material
  • Qualify for a certificate

To receive a Certificate of Achievement you need to take any tests and score over 70%. You don’t get access to tests if you choose take to a course for free.

A Certificate of Achievement

Upgrading means you’ll receive a Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course.

  • Prove your success when applying for jobs or courses
  • Celebrate your hard work
  • Display on your Linkedin or CV

To receive a Certificate of Achievement you need to mark 90% of the steps on the course as complete, and score over 70% on any course tests.