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What will scientists do with Blue Waters?

Many scientists are working now with the Blue Waters team so they are ready to use the massive sustained-petaflop supercomputer when it comes online in 2011. These teams will use Blue Waters to improve our understanding of tornadoes, earthquakes, the spread of contagious diseases, the formation of galaxies, the behavior of molecules and more.

Brian O’Shea and other cosmologists will use Blue Waters to see many more galaxies in much greater detail, learning about the earliest days of the universe’s evolution. O’Shea expects his simulations with Blue Waters to show more than 1,000 times the mass resolution and 32 times the spatial resolution when compared to simulations from the late 1990s. That will translate into simulations of hundreds of thousands of galaxies instead of a thousand galaxies.

Researchers from Virginia Tech, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, and Research Triangle Institute will be able to model global epidemics with Blue Waters, providing crucial information for preparedness and emergency response. Because of the increased power of the supercomputer, their simulations will be able to look at the interactions of more than 6 billion people, rather than just a few hundred million.

A team led by Illinois’ Robert Wilhelmson will use Blue Waters to better understand supercell storms and the dangerous tornadoes they sometimes spawn. The power of Blue Waters will enable the team for the first time to capture some of the small-scale features that control tornado structure and evolution. The project will provide data that can help improve tornado forecasting.

Illinois researcher Klaus Schulten uses mathematical modeling as a “computational microscope” that allows him to get a detailed look at how molecules behave, revealing the basic structures and processes of life. Twenty years ago, it was a triumph to simulate part of the cell wall, a simulation that involved tens of thousands of atoms. Later, more powerful supercomputers could simulate about 100,000 atoms, describing phenomena like how a channel permits water to move through bacterial membranes. Currently scientists can simulate systems of several million atoms—Schulten and his team, for example, simulated all of the atoms in an entire lifeform, the satellite tobacco mosaic virus. With Blue Waters, Schulten will simulate more complex biological structures in great detail and will be able to watch biomolecular processes, like protein folding, for a longer time. Better understanding of these basic processes and structures can lead to better understanding of diseases and new avenues for developing potential treatments.

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

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