A computer institute has been awarded $200,000 in order to solve the legendary 80s puzzle, the Rubik's Cube.

Director of the Institute for Complex Scientific Software at Northeastern University in Boston, Gene Cooperman, is studying Rubik's Cubes as a way of setting up machines to study combinatorial problems in science and operations research.

He wants to record as many different states of the Rubik's Cube as possible, which he says will exceed the 20TB of capacity that the $200,000 National Science Foundation grant recently afforded him.

Cooperman said that what he learns about the cube could be applied to operations research problems with business applications, such as determining the most efficient way to move goods to consumers.

"Operations research is about efficiently using resources," he said. "The Rubik's Cube is the same kind of mathematical problem."

The grant will provide the researchers with up to five times more storage than they could devote to a single problem before and is unusual in that the focus is not on the number of computers or CPUs but on the amount of disk space.

Cooperman has not yet decided what type of storage or which vendor he will use. But he is thinking in terms of at least 32 dual-processor computer nodes, he said, with the majority of storage being lower-cost SATA drives and one to two terabytes being faster storage that can act as a cache for the slower disk.

Other projects will also rely on the storage including: electronic message tracking to analyse the relationships between messages to improve security, looking for trends and indicators among many magnetic resonance imaging scans, analysing computer viruses, and setting up a "honeypot" computer to attract hackers in order to find patterns in their log-in processes.