Nuclear and computer science faculty lead NNSA center of excellence

December 2, 2014
| By: Aubrey Bloom

The Center for Exascale Radiation Transport (CERT) at Texas A&M University is one of six centers of excellence funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) under the Predictive Science Academic Alliance Program (PSAAP-II). CERT, led by Texas A&M with participation from the University of Colorado, will be funded at $10 million over a period of five years.

"Our College of Engineering continues to innovate and improve on its status as one of the top programs in the country," John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System said. "This designation of a center of excellence by the NNSA is evidence of the momentum."

Professor Jim Morel of the Department of Nuclear Engineering is the CERT director and the principal investigator of the project. Co-principal investigators include: Professor Lawrence Rauchwerger of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and Professors Marvin Adams, Les Braby, Ryan McClarren and Jean Ragusa, all nuclear engineering faculty members.

Co-investigators include Professor Nancy Amato from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering; Derek Bingham of Simon Fraser University; Tom Manteuffel and Steve McCormick of the University of Colorado; Delia Perez-Nunez from nuclear engineering; and Tom Conroy of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES).

CERT will focus on the development of computational techniques for efficiently simulating thermal radiation propagation using extreme-scale or exascale computers planned for the future as well as the development of predictive science techniques to quantify uncertainty in simulated results. Radiation propagation plays a major role in high-energy density laboratory physics experiments of the type carried out at the NNSA's National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as well as several other NNSA facilities. Exascale computers will consist of many millions of processors and be capable of executing on the order of 1,018 floating point operations per second. The fastest computers currently in existence execute roughly 1,016 floating point operations per second and use enormous amounts of power.

In order to achieve affordable operating costs, exascale computers must consume far less energy per processor than current computers. Computing on exascale-scale machines will be very different from computing on existing machines because of this low-power requirement. For instance, data movement will be far more expensive in terms of energy consumption than floating-point operations, and erroneous computations will routinely occur during the course of a simulation. Thus the entire concept of the "cost" of computational algorithms will change and algorithms must have the capability to detect erroneous computation and either correct it or tolerate it in some quantifiable manner. The research plan of CERT includes uncertainty quantification, radiation propagation experiments and simulation, algorithmic development and modeling, and software development. 

"I feel this recognition is indicative of the caliber, quality and value of our programs here," said Dr. Yassin Hassan, head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M. "We are fortunate to have strategic administrators, dedicated faculty, hard-working staff and extraordinary students who are committed to setting our programs apart."

CERT at Texas A&M was one of six new centers of excellence the NNSA funded. Each of the centers will focus on the emerging fields of predictive science and extreme-scale computing.  The six universities were selected for either a multidisciplinary simulation center (MSC) or as a single-discipline center (SDC).

The six universities include:

— Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, "Center for Exascale Radiation Transport," (SDC) 

— University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, "The Uncertainty Quantification-Predictive Multidisciplinary Simulation Center for High Efficiency Electric Power Generation with Carbon Capture," (MSC)

— University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, "Center for Exascale Simulation of Plasma-Coupled Combustion," (MSC)

— Stanford University, Stanford, California, "Predictive Simulations of Particle-laden Turbulence in a Radiation Environment," (MSC)

— University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida., "Center for Compressible Multiphase Turbulence," (SDC)

— University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, "Center for Shock Wave-processing of Advanced Reactive Materials," (SDC)

"We expect the PSAAP alliances will continue to help develop the predictive science field and the workforce of the future, wherein simulations will be pervasive and instrumental in important, high-impact decision-making processes," said Robert Meisner, director of the NNSA Advanced Simulation and Computing program (ASC).

ASC's academic alliances provide a training ground where graduate students and postdoctoral researchers gain and hone skills necessary to carry out large-scale simulations.

Predictive science is the application of verified and validated computational simulations to predict the behavior of complex systems where routine experiments are not feasible. The selected PSAAP II centers will focus on unclassified applications of interest to NNSA and its national laboratories, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.

The PSAAP II centers will develop the science and engineering models and software for their large-scale simulations utilizing methods of verification and validation and uncertainty quantification, with an additional focus on extreme-scale computing. The goal of these disciplines is to enable scientists to make precise statements about the degree of confidence they have in their simulation-based predictions.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.


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