Wyoming researchers to get first crack at supercomputer

2012-06-13T23:45:00Z 2012-06-14T00:34:44Z Wyoming researchers to get first crack at supercomputerBy JEREMY PELZER Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
June 13, 2012 11:45 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — When the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s new supercomputer comes online this fall, University of Wyoming researchers will put the machine to work on tackling problems from developing carbon sequestration technologies to examining how planets form.

On Monday, the National Science Foundation announced the first seven UW projects approved for the new supercomputing facility, which when completed in October will rank among the world’s fastest.

Because the state has pledged millions toward building and maintaining the supercomputer, UW will have access to 20 percent of the 1.5-petaflop computer’s operations. One petaflop equals 1 quadrillion, or 1,500,000,000,000,000, computer operations per second.

Some of the UW projects will study issues related to Wyoming. One project by UW professors Fred Ogden and Craig Douglas will create a comprehensive model of how water flows through the Colorado River Basin – a useful tool when crafting water policy. UW School of Energy Resources mathematics professor Felipe Pereira will use the computer to model how to securely store carbon dioxide emissions underground – important research for fossil-fuel-dependent Wyoming as concern over global warming grows.

Other projects will look to build a detailed weather modeling system for Rocky Mountain weather patterns, study better techniques for seeding clouds to produce rain, and examine the fluid dynamics of how wind flows across a turbine blade.

But some of the research projects will look far beyond the state. Hannah Jang-Condell, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at UW, will simulate how gas and dust in space coalesces to form planets.

UW professors Po Chen and Liqiang Wang will use the computer to create elaborate models of underground seismic activity. Such work could result in improved earthquake warning systems and even help authorities detect covert nuclear explosions in North Korea and elsewhere in Asia.

To be approved, each of the projects first had to win approval from the UW-NCAR Alliance Resource Advisory Panel. Only one project proposal was shot down, as the type of research wasn’t considered suitable enough for the computer, said Bryan Shader, UW's special assistant to the vice president of research and economic development.

Shader said he expects a lot more proposals to be submitted during the next round of computer access allocations in December. About 25 UW faulty are involved in high-performance computing, he said, and another 25 find it crucial to their work.

“What we’re going to quickly find is the demand quickly exceeds the supply,” he said.

UW also hopes that the supercomputer will give the university a tremendous boost in winning more grant money, luring more prominent faculty, and having more research proposals approved.

But access to the NCAR supercomputer won’t be totally limited to a select few on campus. University faculty and students, Shader said, can apply to use computer time for smaller projects – for post-doctoral studies, for example, or for class research.

UW mechanical engineering professor Dimitri Mavriplis, who’s leading the fluid dynamics project approved earlier this week, told University of Wyoming News that before now, his research into how air flows around a wind turbine blade or an airplane wing has involved thousands of hours of costly wind-tunnel testing.

But with access to the supercomputer, he said, he can do far more intricate research into issues such as airplane turbulence more effectively and more efficiently.

“Computer simulations will probably never replace (wind tunnel) testing completely," Mavriplis told UW News. "But it can replace more and more of the testing, and really reduce the expense and design cycle time for new aircraft development. It's continuous improvement."

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