The Amazing Home-Built Supercomputer

“I have bought this wonderful machine—a computer. Now I am rather an authority on gods, so I identified the machine—it seems to me to be an Old Testament god with a lot of rules and no mercy.” —Joseph Campbell

In A Nutshell

Two mathematician brothers, David and Gregory Chudnovsky, have held numerous world records for computing pi to the most decimal places. They first did it in the early ’90s with a supercomputer that they built in their Manhattan apartment.

The Whole Bushel

The quest to compute pi—the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter—has long been one of the holy grails of mathematics. It is an irrational number, one that goes on and on forever and never repeats, and has currently been computed to over 10 trillion decimal places. It requires extremely robust computers to do this, and brothers David and Gregory Chudnovsky were among the first to figure pi to a ridiculous number of places (about two billion) in the early 1990s. In order to get around the problem of not having ready access to a supercomputer, they built one themselves—mostly out of parts from Home Depot.

They undertook this project in Gregory’s Manhattan apartment, using their own design. Any parts they couldn’t get from the local hardware store were mail-ordered. They called the machine “M-Zero” (apparently being fond of naming conventions appropriate for 1950s science fiction films). And if building their own computer capable of breaking long-standing computational records isn’t impressive enough, bear in mind also that Davis has the debilitating neuromuscular disease myasthenia gravis and must be physically assisted by Gregory.

It has been speculated that acclaimed film director Darren Aronofsky based his 1998 film Pi on the brothers. In 2003, the brothers assisted the Metropolitan Museum of Art in creating a digital reproduction of the seven tapestries comprising “The Hunt of the Unicorn,” a gigantic, centuries-old piece. The Chudnovskys again used their own supercomputer to optimize 290 million pixels and produce a single multi-gigabit image—three months and 7.7 quadrillion calculations later.

Show Me The Proof

The Mountains Of Pi
Weaving in bits and bytes
Pi, God, and apartment supercomputers