Understanding the fluid dynamics behind collapsing bubbles could help design better propellers and fuel injectors

IBM sets fluid dynamics supercomputing record

An IBM supercomputer has set a new record for simulating fluid dynamics by investigating clouds of collapsing bubbles.

Researchers employed 13 trillion cells and reached 14.4 Petaflop sustained performance, unprecedented for flow simulations, on the firm’s Sequoia computer— 73 per cent of the supercomputer’s theoretical peak.  

The phenomenon has been hard to investigate quantitatively due to the violence and short time scales of the process, but in an experiment led by university ETH Zurich and IBM Research scientist in Zurich, simulations resolved 15,000 bubbles, a 150-fold improvement over previous research and achieved a 20-fold reduction in time to solution.

“In the last 10 years we have addressed a fundamental problem of computational science: the ever increasing gap of hardware capabilities and their effective utilization to solve engineering problems”, said Petros Koumoutsakos, director of the Computational Science and Engineering Laboratory at ETH Zurich who led the project.

“We have based our developments on finite volume methods, perhaps the most established and widespread method for engineering flow simulations. We have also invested significant effort in designing software that takes advantage of today’s parallel computer architectures. It is the proper integration of computer science and numerical mathematics that enables such advances.”

The breakthrough paves the way for the investigation of a complex phenomenon called cloud cavitation collapse, which occurs when vapour cavities or bubbles form in a liquid due to changes in pressure and then implode generating damaging shockwaves.

Understanding the process could help develop applications in healthcare and industrial technology such as improving the design of high pressure fuel injectors and propellers, shattering kidney stones using the shockwaves from the collapsing bubbles and using bursting bubbles to destroy cancer cells or precisely target drugs.

The simulations are one to two orders of magnitude faster than any previously reported flow simulation, but the feat didn’t help the BlueGene/Q computer move up the world super computer rankings, which were released today at the SC13 high performance computing conference in Denver, USA.

Seqoia remains in third place on the TOP500 List with Tianhe-2, a supercomputer developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology, retaining pole position and Titan, a Cray XK7 system installed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, staying at No. 2.

"We were able to accomplish this using an array of pioneering hardware and software features within the IBM BlueGene/Q platform that allowed the fast development of ultra-scalable code which achieves an order of magnitude better performance than previous state-of-the-art,” said Alessandro Curioni, head of mathematical and computational sciences department at IBM Research – Zurich.

“While the Top500 list will continue to generate global interest, the applications of these machines and how they are used to tackle some of the world's most pressing human and business issues more accurately quantifies the evolution of supercomputing.”

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