University of Rhode Island Speeds up Physics Research With SGI Technology

Tight Node Connectivity and Compute Power of SGI Altix System Helps

Scientists Solve Classic Equations and Develop Powerful Quantum Methods

Nov 27, 2006, 00:00 ET from SGI

    MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Nov. 27 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- What if,
 before designing a car, an engineer could use physical knowledge of atomic
 particles to design materials and know exactly how they would react in a
 collision? What if fundamental physical equations that predict how those
 particles will behave in various energy states (cold, heat, stress) could
 be used to design spacecraft? To solve the physics equations that will lead
 to the engineering designs of tomorrow, physicists at the University of
 Rhode Island are investigating the fundamental quantum mechanics of
 particles using technology from SGI (Nasdaq:   SGIC). The SGI(R) Altix(R)
 system, installed in August, is used by the Physics Department to solve one
 of the basic equations of quantum mechanics, the Schrodinger equation,
 which describes how matter behaves at the atomic scale. While the equation
 has been solved in several simple cases, SGI Altix technology was chosen
 because systems involving more than two or three particles cannot be
 directly solved, and require instead the use of computationally intensive
 numerical methods.
     "We selected the Altix because of the speed of the connectivity of the
 various nodes, the speed of the exchange of information between the nodes,
 the speed of the individual processors, and the flexibility that that
 offers," said Dr. Peter Nightingale, professor of physics, University of
 Rhode Island. "That is important because a lot of what we do involves
 linear algebra with matrices, and the matrices tend to be spread out over
 different nodes. There is communication necessary to do a coordinated
 calculation for a matrix that is spread out over these systems. It's the
 speed of that communication that really is a bottleneck at times. Our
 cluster system was simply becoming unreliable and the SGI Altix offers much
 stronger connectivity and therefore we are able to do bigger calculations
 faster, which require a lot of compute power."
     Purchased in July through James River Technical, Inc. (JRTI), SGI's
 exclusive higher education reseller, the SGI(R) Altix(R) 350, with 10
 Intel(R) Itanium(R) 2 processors running Novell(R) SUSE(R) Linux(R)
 Enterprise Server 9, is connected to the older cluster as well as to
 numerous desktops in the Physics Department. The SGI Altix system is also
 connected to the Internet, allowing anyone with access to use it, typically
 students who log in from home.
     The SGI Altix 350 system will be used by Dr. Nightingale and his
 students as part of an ongoing program, supported by the National Science
 Foundation (NSF), to study the behavior of small van der Waals complexes
 and to develop their own applications. These van der Waals systems consist
 of a small number of weakly interacting atoms, and the research addresses
 the fundamental problem of solving the Schrodinger equation for these
 systems. The University of Rhode Island researchers will develop new Monte
 Carlo methods to solve this equation, and the SGI Altix system will supply
 the power to speed up study of these particle systems and compare them with
 experiments. As Dr. Nightingale explains, the development of these methods
 also has implications for future engineering design.
     "The energies of ground and excited states tell us about how the
 particles interact with each other, but what is not really known is how
 complicated systems interact, what the strength of the interaction is, as
 the distance changes," added Dr. Nightingale. "For instance, if you can
 accurately predict where the energy levels are, you can figure out what the
 interactions between the particles are and that is important for all sorts
 of applications. Ultimately, and we may not be there for quite a while, the
 idea is to write down these fundamental physical equations and then design
 materials on the basis of the fundamental properties of this material.
 Right now, engineers design products based on what are called
 phenomenological models, which are a mixture of things that are known,
 things that are guessed, and things that are measured. But it would be much
 more elegant if you could start from fundamental physics, from the
 Schrodinger equation, and on the basis of that predict how your car will
 behave in a collision, for example. That's quite a stretch, but that's the
 ultimate goal."
     "Quantum mechanics applications are among the most computationally
 intensive, and are critical for the advancement of many areas of physics,
 nanotechnology, material science and drug discovery," said Michael Brown,
 sciences market segment manager, SGI. "The University of Rhode Island's
 Physics Department chose the SGI Altix system for its combination of speed
 and scalability, allowing them to develop new, breakthrough approaches to
 highly accurate simulations. We have also formed a partnership, as we do
 with many scientists and researchers who are pushing the envelope of
 computation, in which URI and SGI agree to explore ways in which SGI
 architecture could help speed up calculations even further."
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      Marla Robinson