ICHEC has an active outreach programme that encourages the scientific understanding of computing and High Performance Computing in primary/secondary schools and the general public.
Conceptually, think of a supercomputer not as a single (super) computer, but instead, a large number of computers tightly integrated to form one large (virtual) supercomputer. So for instance the Irish National supercomputer “Stokes” consists of 320 “computers” (which we call “nodes”), each comprising of two processor chips, with 6 cores each. This gives Stokes a total of 3,840 computational cores. Its main components (processors and memory) are the same as found in most high-end home computers. So the main difference between a supercomputer and home computers (beside scale) is that the programming model necessary to exploit the power of supercomputers is different: it requires programmers to parallelise the problem.
HPC is becoming increasingly important both in industry and academia for scientific research. Its scope is surprisingly broad ranging. In industry, its use ranges from predictable areas such as engineering (civil engineering, automotive and aeronautics, medical devices for the design of cardiac stents and also in orthopedics), the oil industry (oil exploration, reservoir simulation), or the financial sector (risk calculation). But you may be surprised to hear that HPC has played a major role in the design of Speedo’s revolutionary swimsuit (which helped break a series of world records recently), or the shape of Pringle’s crisps. An interesting video was recently produced by DreamWorks for the US Council on Competitiveness to illustrate the widespread use of HPC in industry and its importance to the US economy.