Leicester to host supercomputer capable of answering the ultimate questions

By Graeme Burton
07 Jun 2012 View Comments

The University of Leicester is to host a supercomputer capable of analysing space in unprecedented detail, helping scientists to address some of the most challenging questions in physics and astronomy.

The University of Leicester is one of four sites that will host national high-performance computing (HPC) facilities for theoretical astrophysics and particle physics research.

Funding for the new facility is being provided by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills e-infrastructure budget. The University of Leicester was selected on the strength of its astronomy department and the proximity of the National Space Centre, which is also in Leicester.

The facility will be managed by the university's IT services department, along with the Department of Physics & Astronomy. The university is further supporting the project by investing in a major upgrade of its datacentre to host the new facility. HP will supply the new computer system, which will be used to run state-of-the-art simulations.

The system will help astronomers and physicists to answer such questions as what is dark matter? How do stars form? And why do galaxies always have black holes at their centres?

"We will now be able to carry out the largest and most detailed simulations of planets, stars and galaxies that have ever been performed and answer questions that we could not even have asked just a few years ago," said Dr Mark Wilkinson, principal scientist for the project and a member of the Theoretical Astrophysics Group at the University of Leicester.

Once operational, the machine will be part of the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) DiRAC facility. The DiRAC consortium, of which the Theoretical Astrophysics Group at the University of Leicester is a founder member, provides high-performance computing facilities for top UK research institutes in particle physics and astronomy.

"The unique feature of DiRAC is that researchers have access to four national facilities, each of which use different computing architectures designed to attack specific science problems," said Wilkinson.

The new facility will be commissioned over the summer.

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