It’s a dark, unyielding force capable of an almost incomprehensible intelligence: A machine with spectacular rock-crushing power and the ability to sense when a bridge could collapse.

But it’s not as sinister as it sounds. The University of Toronto is using a room full of computer processors, 256 to be exact, to test the structural integrity of rocks.

"You can’t stand here for too long or it will actually suck the heat from your body," said Paul Ruppert, director of strategic research systems with the department of civil engineering at the University of Toronto. He’s referring to the high-powered cooling systems keeping the trio of dark columns from melting down. They wouldn’t freeze you in a block of ice, but it could get uncomfortable, Ruppert says.

Researchers who are using this latest cluster of computing power at the U of T are trying to understand how rock behaves by testing it to the point of failure then processing the resulting data at rapid speeds.

Real-life applications could include the assessment of bridge stability, mining projects and fault lines.