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Supercomputing: from the midst of molecules to the ends of the universe

R&D Now

At any one time, about 100 Australian science research projects are using the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.

Part of a supercomputer

The new Pawsey Supercomputing Centre is a $90 million resource that caters for the supercomputing, visualisation and data storage requirements of researchers across the country.

Located at Perth’s Technology Park, the centre houses several high-end supercomputing and data storage units.
Among these is the Magnus ‘petascale’ computer that recently debuted at number 41 on the world’s Top 500 list of supercomputers.

Magnus hails from the latest generation of Cray XC40 supercomputers, and is currently the most powerful scientific supercomputer in the Southern Hemisphere.

“Supercomputing provides faster analyses and enables researchers to develop new approaches for particular tasks,” says the centre’s Executive Director, Dr Neil Stringfellow.

“A system like Magnus allows researchers across the entire range of scientific fields to dramatically increase their research aspirations and the scope of their projects,” Stringfellow says.

The new Pawsey Supercomputing Centre has emerged from the rebranding of the iVEC joint venture, which began providing researchers with advanced computing capabilities in 2000. iVEC was also responsible for managing and operating
the Pawsey Centre that was established at Perth’s Technology Park in 2011 with ongoing financial support from both the state and federal governments, CSIRO, Curtin University, The University of Western Australia, Edith Cowan University and Murdoch University.

A recent announcement by the WA State Government of a commitment of $21.6 million will see the Pawsey Centre funded until 2021, a move extremely welcomed by the Western Australian scientific community.

For more information, visit the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre website.

Not small at all

Even research at the molecular level can demand supercomputer power. John Curtin Distinguished Professor Julian Gale typically uses computer simulation to investigate molecular structures, dynamics and energetics. Because all of his research is computational, supercomputing facilities are essential to his projects.

Gale and Dr Paolo Raitieri, both from the Nanochemistry Research Institute, are currently undertaking fundamental research into the process of biomineralisation. At the Pawsey Centre, their group is running molecular dynamics simulations to study the formation of calcium oxalate, which is a common component of kidney stones, and the surface growth of carbonate minerals, which will inform processes such as long-term carbon sequestration.

Breathe in … breathe out

Aided by the power of the Pawsey Centre, a Curtin project is investigating the internal flow patterns and deposition of particles in human lungs. Associate Professor Ben Mullins is an environmental engineer specialising in aerosol science. Based at Curtin’s Department of Health, Safety and Environment, Mullins and his team are using computational fluid dynamic (CFD) simulations to study respiratory airflow.

Together with Dr Andrew King from the Fluid Dynamics Research Group, the team used 3D computed tomography scans to create ‘breathing’ models of lungs. Solving these models requires a supercomputer to cope with the computationally intensive calculations. The team’s research will inform several areas of respiratory health, including aerosol drug delivery, invasive lung surgery and the deposition of air pollutants in lungs.

Wave on

Industry-led projects are also benefiting from the superior research capabilities that supercomputing enables. In addition to his work with the respiratory airflow team, Dr Andrew King is assisting Bombora Wave Power in its development of an innovative wave-energy system.

The system comprises a large membrane, air circuit and turbine to concentrate, collect and convert the ocean’s wave energy into electricity. Using CFD simulations developed on the Pawsey Centre supercomputers, King is able to predict the pressures acting on the membrane, the effects on the wave field, as well as the power output of the devices.

Double data

The Pawsey Centre’s first ‘Big Data’ user is the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope project, led by Professor Steven Tingay from the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy.

The MWA surveys the Universe from a site in WA’s Midwest, and the vast data sets that are generated travel 800 kilometres over an optic fibre network to the Pawsey Centre. There, the data is archived and made available to international teams working on 24 large-scale projects in radio astronomy.

The MWA is the first precursor for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) international mega-science project to be fully operational. When completed, the SKA’s linked arrays will span Australia and South Africa, and create the world’s most powerful radio telescope.

Supercomputing is critical for these next-generation radio telescopes, and the Pawsey Centre is expected to host the Science Data Processor for the Australian component of the SKA.

Curtin Institute for Computation

The Curtin Institute for Computation (CIC) has been established to bring together the University’s range of capabilities in computation, and to harness the resources of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.

Computational chemist Professor Andrew Rohl has been appointed inaugural Director of the CIC. Through his six-year leadership of the iVEC – an unincorporated joint venture of Western Australia’s four public universities and CSIRO – Rohl has been instrumental in establishing the world-leading Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.

“Large and complex data sets are providing new challenges and exciting opportunities to exploit the analytical and computational resources available,” he says.

“The Curtin Institute for Computation provides an excellent opportunity to harness computational resources both in WA and internationally.”

To find out more, visit the Curtin Institute for Computation website.

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