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Astrophysicists, cosmologists to tap power of Blue Waters

Blue Waters is expected to be the most powerful supercomputer in the world for open scientific research when it comes online at Illinois in 2011. Scientists and engineers who are eager to tap this sustained-petaflop powerhouse for breakthrough research are already working closely with the Blue Waters project team to prepare their codes. The National Science Foundation provides Petascale Computing Resource Allocations (PRAC awards) to support these collaborations, which include help porting and re-engineering existing applications and in some cases building entirely new applications based on new programming models.

Current PRAC projects—18 representing about 30 institutions—represent a wide range of scientific disciplines: biology and health, weather and climate, earthquakes and geophysics, and cosmology and our universe.

Understand the helium flash events that occur in old, giant stars near the end of their lives and you begin to understand the origin of heavy metals flung throughout the universe. A team led by the University of Minnesota’s Paul Woodard hopes to use Blue Waters to create 3D global simulations of the flashes as they dredge up material enriched with heavier elements from the interior of the star and mix them with the outer envelope of the star as the latter is expelled. The project also involves using a novel technique to organize the computational work on the Blue Waters processors to use their computational power more effectively. It could also provide a computational technique that would benefit a number of areas of research that need to make efficient use of the emerging class of very large, parallel, multi-core computing systems.

Today’s scientists still encounter problems so complex they require new computational methods and tools to solve. In astrophysics, one such problem is investigating and understanding gamma-ray bursts, thought to occur when a massive star collapses, creating a black hole. The resulting explosion sends bright flashes of gamma rays radiating across the universe. A team led by Louisiana State University will prepare a code for Blue Waters that will improve the physics and add neutrino transport and interactions, radiation transport, the capability to handle ultra-relativistic flows, gamma-ray emission from relativistic plasmas, and afterglow photon emission.

Another team working on astrophysics code for Blue Waters is led by the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Manuela Campanelli. With it, they hope to explore pairs of very dense astrophysical objects, including the merger of asymmetric black hole binaries, of neutron star binaries, and the merger of a black hole and a neutron star. Through more accurate simulations, they will be able to characterize the events’ gravity wave signatures, which will ultimately be detected by instruments like the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

A project led by Kentaro Nagamine, of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, will improve the ENZO cosmological simulation code, as well as a new code called Hydro Tree Particle Mesh that adds smooth particle hydrodynamics to an existing tree particle mesh code. Nagamine will use Blue Waters to make numerical simulations that will help determine when and how galaxies form and how they evolved in the early universe. Simulations will be tested against a suite of cosmological datasets from new ground- and space-based observatories. They also will be used as a training set to define the parameters of the next generation of very large cosmological observational experiments.

For more information about Blue Waters and how it will benefit scientific research, see

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