Game-Changing Research

What do video games and oil exploration have in common? Both require very demanding computer applications that can rapidly process massive amounts of data.

Now, using computer technology originally co-designed by IBM for video-game consoles, University of Houston seismic researchers are employing this extremely fast technology to more effectively target oil reserves.

IBM is supporting the UH Mission-Oriented Seismic Research Program (M-OSRP) and its petroleum industry sponsors with a Cell Broadband Engine (Cell/B.E.) system that represents a generation of powerful supercomputers with multiple processors executing and analyzing different types of data at once.

Originally designed for use in computer entertainment products such as the Sony PlayStation 3, the Cell/B.E. processor delivers supercomputing performance on a single chip, with up to nine core units per chip. This design has a great advantage in running programs that require the same algorithm to be run independently on a common data set.

In seismic exploration, algorithms are used to process seismic data and locate oil and gas deposits. However, many exploration targets, such as sub-salt and sub-basalt exploration, represent intrinsic algorithmic breakdown and failure.

New seismic concepts and capabilities are required for such targets, and these new algorithms require increased computing power, the kind provided by the Cell/B.E. processor.

IBM does not lease this machine, but is loaning it to UH as part of a very exclusive program with academic and research institutions.

"Our partnership with IBM contributes to an effective and comprehensive response to the pressing challenges faced by the petroleum industry in locating and producing hydrocarbons," said Arthur Weglein, director of M-OSRP and the Cullen Distinguished Professor of Physics at UH. "The success of this initiative has important implications for both our nation’s and the world's energy and security interests."