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R&D Now

Every researcher working in science and engineering should be using advanced ICT such as supercomputing in their research, says computational scientist Professor Andrew Rohl.

Man server room
Man server room

Crystallisation, fluid dynamics, hydrogen storage, geosequestration and geodesy are just a few project areas in which Curtin teams are applying computational simulations to advance their research.

“Simulation hastens research well beyond the scope of experimentation, ”says Professor Andrew Rohl.

“It expedites research in those fields where traditional experiments aren’t viable – either because they’re not possible or because of the time and expense required to obtain results.”

Advances in supercomputing have enabled computational science and engineering (CSE) to develop as a discipline. Typically, CSE projects use computational models and simulations to solve complex physical problems.

But without the benefits of high-end computing it would be near impossible for many of Curtin’s researchers to gain expertise in CSE techniques and expect their research to be world-class. Fortunately, Western Australian scientists have access to the supercomputing facility iVEC.

During his 12 years as iVEC’s inaugural director, Rohl oversaw phenomenal development of the centre’s capabilities, before returning to Curtin’s Nanochemistry Research Institute in 2012 to resume his fundamental research in crystallisation.

“Increasingly, researchers across the breadth of science fields are using advanced computing to address questions about natural phenomena, ” he says.

“It’s also allowing innovations in engineering design and analysis. Curtin’s School of Built Environment, for example, is creating simulated environments with building information modelling technologies.”

Expertise in computational science is growing across Curtin; materials science, geoscience, atomic physics and biomedicine teams are just a few that are taking advantage of iVEC’s resources.

“Most of these areas are using simulation and modelling – although radio astronomy is an example of an area that uses iVEC’s massive data storage capabilities for data-intensive research methods, ” Rohl says.

In fact, radio astronomer Professor Steven Tingay utilises iVEC’s storage capabilities more than any other scientist in WA.

As Co-Director of the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy, Tingay leads the international Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) project that is acquiring massive amounts of data from an advanced, new radio telescope that has begun surveying the sky.

Correspondingly, John Curtin Distinguished Professor Julian Gale and his group are the largest users of supercomputing in the state, undertaking advanced molecular modelling in minerals chemistry and speciation.

During 2013 iVEC will install supercomputing and data-storage systems at the new Pawsey Centre – a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient facility built with $80 million from the federal government’s Super Science Initiative, and with funding from the WA Government.

Dr Neil Stringfellow, a computational scientist from the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre, in Zurich, commenced as iVEC’s Executive Director in April 2013. He will oversee the installation of a class-leading ‘Cray Cascade’ – a 200-teraflop supercomputer allowing data transfer of 40 gigabits per second that will serve the real-time processing and analysis needs of projects such as the MWA. This system will be upgraded to beyond one petaflop in 2014.