Massey scientist wins time on leading super computer

Dr Krista Steenbergen.

Dr Krista Steenbergen, of Massey University’s Centre for Theoretical Chemistry and Physics (CTCP), has won 18.1 million computing hours on one of the world’s top supercomputers.

The time has been awarded on the Marconi KNL supercomputer, currently ranked the world’s 12th best supercomputer, based at the Cineca supercomputing facility in Italy, and represents  research funding equivalent to NZ$1.26 million.

Dr Steenbergen will use Marconi's extensive computational power to investigate relativistic effects of atoms under pressure, building on their recent research showing that at atmospheric pressure, mercury’s melting temperature is lowered by 160 degrees celsius.

Dr Steenbergen says that the research would not have been possible without access to a supercomputer of this calibre. “This is a fantastic award and serves as a testament to the importance of fundamental scientific research.

“Although, we do not yet have any idea of how our results might serve the industrial or technological communities, as scientists, we have repeatedly seen how fundamental research had led to some of the most significant technological breakthroughs of the 20th century. 

“An award equivalent of NZ$1.26 million makes it clear that fundamental research is still highly-valued in the international community."

The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) awarded the time, after a highly competitive application process by a panel of experts, evaluating the calibre of both the proposed research as well as the research team. Of the 59 awarded projects, Dr Steenbergen’s was one of only two originating from non-European-based principal investigators. 

She will complete the research in collaboration with Massey collaborators Distinguished Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger (CTCP) and Dr Elke Pahl (CTCP), and ? University Joseph Fourier’s Dr Florent Calvo.

Professor Schwerdtfeger says the research has been theorised for decades. “For more than 40 years, leading physicists theorised that relativity made mercury a liquid at room temperature, and the proof that this is indeed the case came only very recently from the our melting team.”

“Now is the time to move into the high pressure regime. Using clever simulation techniques and Marconi’s exceptional supercomputing capabilities, our team will dramatically dial up the pressure to give the world’s first glimpse of how relativity changes materials under extreme compression. The simulated pressures will reach up to 100 GPa, rivalling pressures that can only be obtained in a laboratory with sophisticated diamond anvil cell experiments.”

The group will also use Marconi’s resources to investigate two other metals, zinc and cadmium, which are chemically similar to mercury, but not so strongly affected by relativity. In comparing the thermodynamic response of each metal under pressure and temperature, this ground-breaking research represents the first systematic study of material properties at non-atmospheric conditions.

For the Tech-savvy

Marconi is solid-state memory based system (Tier-0) with 241,800 state-of-the-art CPUs and a peak performance of 10.8 petaflops. Marconi KNL utilizes Intel Xeon Phi processors with an Omni-Path interconnect, and is currently ranked number 12 on the world’s best supercomputers list, according to TOP500 supercomputer rankings.

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