PLANS are in place to upgrade a “great grandad” super computer used for research aimed at finding out more about the universe.

The super computer at Durham University is the 114th most powerful in the world, and came to the city second hand from a research unit in Warrington.

Moved from the Hartree Centre, in Daresbury, in 2016, COSMA6 is made up of 500 individual computers, with 8,000 Intel Sandy Bridge cores and 4.3 petabytes of storage.

The facility at Durham’s Institute for Computational Cosmology is part of the UK’s national research centre DiRAC, which specialises in particle and nuclear physics, astronomy and cosmology and is used by up to 400 researchers.

Senior computer manager Dr Lydia Heck said: “This second hand system helped greatly in making sure that Britain doesn’t lose its competitiveness on the international stage.”

She added: “This system is very old. For a computer it’s like a great grandad. In the meantime there have been huge strides in technology. In the next months a new system is being installed which will be as powerful as the one we have but is more modern and uses less energy.”

The current system, which took almost a month to set up in Durham, produces so much heat it needs a water cooling system to ensure it works at all.

“If the cooling system failed it takes five minutes to heat up the room so much that everything starts to switch off,” said Dr Heck. “Think how hot a tiny laptop can get, which is made for energy efficiency. This is 500 computers made for performance.”

Working constantly, some of the codes running on the computer last for millions of computing hours, performing thousands of calculations each second.

Dr Heck said: “We are learning how it has happened that we are here and how it is that we can live here on earth. It doesn’t cure cancer but research can lead to huge advancement. After the fundamental research, engineering can take over.”