Scientists Run Visualizations Directly On Supercomputers

Technology.am (July 31, 2009) — If you want to perform a single run of the explosion of any star on your home computer, it would take more than three years just to download the data.

massive starScientists are working to improve techniques for capturing complex visualizations to discover the mechanism behind the violent death of short-lived, massive stars.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory need a way to more quickly compile, execute and especially visualize complex simulations to do cutting-edge astrophysics research.

They are using a technique called software-based parallel volume rendering to explore other ways to speed up the process.

Volume rendering is a technique that can be used to make sense of the billions of tiny points of data collected from an X-ray, MRI, or a researcher’s simulation.

They are trying to find better, quicker ways to form a recognizable image from all of these points of data.

First, they divide the data among many processing cores so that they can all work at once, a technique that’s called parallel computing.

On Argonne’s Blue Gene/P supercomputer, 160,000 computing cores all work together in parallel. Today’s typical laptop, by comparison, has two cores.

Usually, the supercomputer’s work stops once the data has been gathered, and the data is sent to a set of graphics processors (GPUs), which create the final visualizations. But the driving commercial force behind developing GPUs has been the video game industry, so GPUs aren’t always well suited for scientific tasks. In addition, the sheer amount of data that has to be transferred between computers eats up valuable time and disk space.

Because the Blue Gene/P’s main processor can visualize data as they are analyzed, Argonne’s scientists can investigate physical, chemical, and biological phenomena with much more spatial and temporal detail.

The given image shows entropy values in the core of the supernova; different colors and transparencies are assigned to different values of entropy. By selectively adjusting the color and transparency, the scientist can peel away outer layers and see values in the interior of the 3-D volume.

According to Hereld, this new visualization method could enhance research in a wide variety of disciplines. “In astrophysics, studying how stars burn and explode pulls together all kinds of physics: hydrodynamics, gravitational physics, nuclear chemistry and energy transport.”

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