NERSCPowering Scientific Discovery for 50 Years

DOE Announces Major INCITE Allocations of NERSC Resources

December 23, 2003

The DOE Office of Science announced today that three key computational science projects have been chosen to receive a total of 4.9 million hours of supercomputing time at the NERSC Center. The projects are expected to significantly advance our understanding of the makeup of the universe, the chemical process by which plants convert sunlight to energy while removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and the turbulent forces that affect everything from weather to industrial processes.

The projects were selected under a new competitive program, entitled Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE), announced last July by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. The goal of the program was to select a small number of computationally intensive large-scale research projects that can make high-impact scientific advances through the use of a substantial allocation of computer time and data storage at the NERSC Center. The INCITE program specifically encouraged proposals from universities and other research institutions.

In all, 52 proposals were submitted, with more than 60 percent from academic researchers, requesting a total of more than 130 million hours of supercomputer processor time. The awards amount to 10 percent of the total computing time available this year on NERSC's current IBM supercomputer.

"From the outset, our goal was to develop scientific discovery through high end computation," Secretary Abraham said. "The number and quality of the proposals we received show that this promise is shared by our colleagues in the scientific community world-wide. We are delighted by their enthusiasm, and only wish we had more resources to provide. Our selection of three proposals to make use of 10 percent of the great computational power of NERSC is a step forward in management of these resources to achieve major scientific accomplishment. We are now looking forward to the exciting and important results arising from the INCITE competition."

The three projects selected by the INCITE review team are:

"Thermonuclear Supernovae: Stellar Explosions in Three Dimensions," led by Tomasz Plewa of the Center for Astrophysical Thermonuclear Flashes at the University of Chicago, was awarded 2,700,000 processor hours. This project is a collaboration between scientists at the university and at Argonne National Laboratory studying the long-standing problem of thermonuclear flashes on the surfaces and interiors of compact stars. These phenomena are not only fascinating in and of themselves, but are also important for the light they shed on other fundamental questions in astrophysics: X-ray bursts for what they tell us about the masses and radii of neutron stars; classical novae for the contribution they make to the abundances of intermediate-mass elements in the galaxy, and for what they say about how the masses of white dwarfs change with time in close binary systems; and Type Ia supernovae for the contribution they make to the abundances of intermediate mass and heavy elements in the galaxy. Type Ia supernovae are also important for their crucial role as standard candles in determining the Hubble constant.

"Fluid Turbulence and Mixing at High Reynolds Number," a project led by Professor P. K. Yeung of the Georgia Institute of Technology, was allocated 1,200,000 processor hours. Although turbulence is a phenomenon that has applications in a wide range of natural and human activities, it is not well understood and is extremely difficult to model accurately on supercomputers. With improved modeling capability of fluid turbulence, scientists will gain greater insight into meteorology, astrophysics, oceanography, environmental quality, combustion and propulsion, among other research areas. Because of the complexity of turbulence, it is difficult for scientists to accurately predict natural phenomena, such as severe storms, and engineering solutions in areas such as aircraft design, internal combustion engines and industrial flows. Improved models could lead to more efficient jet engines and cleaner-running automobiles.

"Quantum Monte Carlo Study of Photoprotection via Carotenoids in Photosynthetic Centers," led by William A. Lester, Jr. of LBNL and UC Berkeley, was awarded 1,000,000 processor hours. This project aims to increase understanding of the complex processes which occur during photosynthesis, the process by which plants and bacteria convert the sun's light into energy, taking in carbon dioxide and producing oxygen in the process. This project is important on several levels. First, plants and bacteria are the world's foremost means of "carbon sequestration," or storing carbon from the atmosphere — a process which has enormous implications for climate change and global warming. Additionally, photosynthesis is an example of fundamental electron chemistry and is an efficient energy transfer system — processes which are fundamental in many areas of scientific research. The "Monte Carlo" in the title refers to simulations in which data are obtained by simulating a statistical model in which all parameters are numerically specified.

The three projects were selected after a careful screening of all proposals and a more detailed scientific review. Along with the computing time, NERSC will make petabyte storage capability and high-performance networking and visualization resources available to these projects. The possibility of getting one million or more processor hours on a fully supported supercomputer was a strong inducement to apply. The NERSC Center, with its 6,656-processor IBM supercomputer, is DOE's flagship facility for unclassified supercomputing and is one of the few such centers in the nation with the ability to deliver this scale of computing power day in and day out. Along with the computing time, NERSC will make petabyte storage capability and high-performance networking and visualization resources available to these projects.

Time on a supercomputer is measured in processor hours, so running a job on 2,048 processors for four hours would equal 8,192 processor hours. Running a job of this size for one million hours would be completed in just over 20 days on NERSC's supercomputer. By comparison, running a computational problem on a single-processor workstation for one million hours would require the desktop computer to run non-stop for 114 years.

Here are some statistics on the 52 proposals submitted to the INCITE program:

  • A total of 130,508,660 processor hours were requested (one proposal asked for 71,761,920 hours)
  • 65 percent of the proposals were from U.S. academic institutions — six proposals were from universities outside the U.S.
  • Projects covered 12 different scientific disciplines
  • 62 percent of the projects were supported by research agencies other than DOE.

"The level of interest in INCITE demonstrates the need for additional high end computation capability," said Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, director of DOE's Office of Science. "We believe the three projects, chosen from a superb combination of proposals, will demonstrate the consequences of these resources to the entire international scientific community. We shall be monitoring these operations to determine the nature of computational requirements at this level, and the steps we need to take to provide these resources in the future."

DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the nation and ensures U.S. world leadership across a broad range of scientific disciplines. For more information about the Office of Science, go to

About NERSC and Berkeley Lab
The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility that serves as the primary high performance computing center for scientific research sponsored by the Office of Science. Located at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, NERSC serves almost 10,000 scientists at national laboratories and universities researching a wide range of problems in climate, fusion energy, materials science, physics, chemistry, computational biology, and other disciplines. Berkeley Lab is a DOE national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy. »Learn more about computing sciences at Berkeley Lab.