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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Innovative Computing Technique, Unprecedented Simulation Earns Livermore Team Gordon Bell Prize

Using groundbreaking computational techniques, a team of scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and IBM earned the 2007 Gordon Bell Prize for a first-of-a-kind simulation of Kelvin-Helmholtz instability in molten metals on BlueGene/L, the world’s fastest supercomputer.

By performing extremely large-scale molecular dynamics simulations, the team was able to study, for the first time, how a Kelvin-Helmholtz instability develops from atomic scale fluctuations into micron-scale vortices.

This has never been done before. We were able to observe this atom by atom. There was no time scale or length scale we couldn’t see,” says Jim Glosli, lead author on the winning entry titled “Extending Stability Beyond CPU Millennium: A Micron-Scale Simulation of Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability.”

Other team members were: Kyle Caspersen, David Richards, Robert Rudd and project leader Fred Streitz of LLNL; and John Gunnels of IBM.

The Kelvin-Helmholtz instability arises at the interface of fluids in shear flow and results in the formation of waves and vortices. Waves formed by Kelvin-Helmholtz (KH) instability are found in all manner of natural phenomena, such as waves on a windblown ocean, sand dunes and swirling cloud billows.

While Kelvin-Helmholtz instability has been thoroughly studied for years and its behavior is well understood at the macro-scale, scientists did not clearly understand how it evolves at the atomic scale until now.

The insights gained through simulation of this phenomenon are of interest to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Stockpile Stewardship Program, the effort to ensure the safety security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing.

Understanding how matter transitions from a continuous medium at macroscopic length scales to a discrete atomistic medium at the nanoscale has important implications for such laboratory research efforts as National Ignition Facility (NIF) laser fusion experiments and developing applications for nanotube technology.

“This was an important simulation for exploring the atomic origins of hydrodynamic phenomena, and hydrodynamics is at the heart of what we do at the Laboratory,” Glosli says. “We were trying to answer the question: how does the atomic scale feed into the hydrodynamic scale.”

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