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Simulating interactions in the first moments after the Big Bang

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Case study

The Extreme QCD project, based at Swansea University, uses Supercomputing Wales’ infrastructure to simulate the interactions between quarks – the constituents of protons and neutrons – in extreme environments such as the high temperatures that existed in the first fractions of a second after the Big Bang.

“We’re looking at trillions of degrees Celsius. The universe was very different, and the quarks, and the force that binds them, behave differently,” says Professor Chris Allton of Swansea University.

The simulation of quarks requires large scale processing power and complex calculations due to both the strength of the force binding the quarks and to the fact that the force is quantum mechanical, forcing the inclusion of all possible motions of the quarks, no matter how seemingly unlikely. The Extreme QCD research team breaks the space it is studying into a lattice of points, each of which is analysed using complex equations, to create billions of variables.

Supercomputing Wales offers a “very clean, reliable system that’s very approachable,” Allton says.

“It’s a computing cluster that our code runs very naturally on, so it’s a very reliable, secure environment. It’s a nice scale, so we can so these enormous calculations, and it’s got the flexibility.”

While some Extreme QCD calculations are also run on other UK and European supercomputers, they can have speciality features which don’t fit the code as well or offer the same service as Supercomputing Wales, he says.

A close working relationship means that the Supercomputing Wales team is more likely to be able to let the project run code at short notice. Specialists from Supercomputing Wales often sit in on the project’s weekly collaboration meetings to provide advice.

The Supercomputing Wales team has also helped to adapt the Extreme QCD code, first to include vector optimisation to suit their own system and latterly giving advice about how to migrate the code so that it will run on the GPU-based High Performance Computing systems commonly used in other supercomputing centres.

“We’re lucky to have a lot of interaction with the team, and we do need the support as it’s becoming more and more specialised to write efficient high performance code. So apart from the actual machines, having the team to work with is fantastic,” Allton says.

While it would not be necessary for the Supercomputing Wales team to understand the science behind the research being done, many of the Research Software Engineers in the team come from a theoretical particle physics background, Allton says. That understanding of their work has been an added bonus to the researchers in their work with Supercomputing Wales.

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