Jan. 4, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 7

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    Flash Center team receives top prize for massive supercomputing simulation

    Steve Koppes
    News Office

    Scientists at the University’s Center for Astrophysical Thermonuclear Flashes and their collaborators have received one of the world’s top prizes for high-performance supercomputing.

    This image was produced in a Flash Center supercomputer simulation that received the Gordon Bell Prize, one of the highest awards presented for high-performance computing. The image, a three-dimensional representation of the interior of an exploding star, depicts the distribution of pressure during a star explosion. The dark areas at the top indicate where the pressure is greatest, and the shades of gray indicate where less pressure exists.

    The Flash Center team––collaborating with scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Intel Corporation––were awarded the Gordon Bell Prize for their simulation of an exploding star at the November SC2000 conference of high-performance networking and computing .

    The prize-winning submission involved a simulation of a nuclear detonation within the interior of a white dwarf, a sun-like star that has been exhausted of its nuclear fuel. Such detonations are important for understanding the physics of Type Ia supernovae, stellar explosions that play an important role in the production of heavy elements in the universe. Astrophysicists also use these supernovae to establish the distance scale and age of the universe.

    “This is one of the most sophisticated calculations we have in terms of the physics that go into it,” said Flash Center Director Robert Rosner, the William Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics. “It is a beautiful illustration of the power of the computer methodology we use, and it’s very economical with the computer resources that are used.”

    The simulation took several days of continual calculation to perform on one of the world’s most powerful computers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California; the timing studies were carried out on another computer located at Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico. If the simulation could fit onto a fast desktop computer, it would take years to perform.

    Three Gordon Bell Prizes are presented at each SC conference, and recognize outstanding achievements in the application of parallel processing––using more than one computer simultaneously––to practical scientific and engineering problems.

    The prizes were established by Gordon Bell, one of the designers of the Digital Equipment Corporation’s VAX computer system, one of the most popular minicomputers of the 1980s and 1990s.

    Team members who contributed to the winning submission from Astronomy & Astrophysics, were Rosner; Professor James Truran; Research Associates Alan Calder, Paul Ricker and Michael Zingale; Research Scientist Frank Timmes; and graduate student L. Jonathan Dursi. Team members from the University’s Enrico Fermi Institute were Senior Research Scientist Bruce Fryxell and Senior Research Associate Kevin Olson. Contributing from Computer Science was Research Associate Henry Tufo. Several of these researchers also are affiliated with the University’s Computation Institute, a joint effort with Argonne National Laboratory.

    Also contributing were Bruce Curtis, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Greg Henry, Intel Corporation; and Peter MacNeice, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

    The Flash Center is a collaboration between the University, Argonne National Laboratory, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., and the University of Arizona. A grant of nearly $50 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative helped establish the center in 1997.

    The initiative supports the development of advanced computations, especially three-dimensional modeling and simulations, to help safely and reliably maintain the nation’s nuclear arsenal in the absence of nuclear testing.

    For more information about the prize-winning simulation, see http://flash.uchicago.edu/~fxt/cell3d.html. For more information about the Flash Center, see http://flash.uchicago.edu.