Scientific computing’s future: Can any coding language top a 1950s behemoth?

  • 13 May 2014
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Cutting-edge research still universally involves Fortran; a trio of challengers wants in.

by Lee Phillips May 8 2014, 2:00am GMTDT
“I don't know what the language of the year 2000 will look like, but I know it will be called Fortran.” —Tony Hoare, winner of the 1980 Turing Award, in 1982.
Take a tour through the research laboratories at any university physics department or national lab, and much of what you will see defines “cutting edge.” “Research,” after all, means seeing what has never been seen before—looking deeper, measuring more precisely, thinking about problems in new ways.
A large research project in the physical sciences usually involves experimenters, theorists, and people carrying out calculations with computers. There are computers and terminals everywhere. Some of the people hunched over these screens are writing papers, some are analyzing data, and some are working on simulations. These simulations are also quite often on the cutting edge, pushing the world’s fastest supercomputers, with their thousands of networked processors, to the limit. But almost universally, the language in which these simulation codes are written is Fortran, a relic from the 1950s.
Wherever you see giant simulations of the type that run for days on the world’s most massive supercomputers, you are likely to see Fortran code. Some examples are atmospheric modeling and weather prediction carried out by the National Center for Atmospheric Research; classified nuclear weapons and laser fusion codes at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Labs; NASA models of global climate change; and an international consortium of Quantum Chromodynamics researchers, calculating the behavior of quarks, the constituents of protons and neutrons. These projects are just a few random examples from a large computational universe, but all use some version of Fortran as the main language.
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Great article and an excellent read for older ones who remember some of the early stuff, and for the younger ones who have just heard about it and want to know more...Enjoy

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