Extreme computing to power
energy science breakthroughs
Posted August 11, 2011
Part of a series.
Energy science is a broad field that encompasses a diverse group of scientists. But these researchers have a common end in mind: improving energy efficiency, conversion and storage.
Energy science researchers study how to process petroleum and other conventional fuels – and how to develop new ones, such as biofuels. They also investigate the properties of fuels, the chemical reactions involved in combustion and the devices in which combustion occurs.
“All of this takes tremendous computing resources,” says Thom H. Dunning Jr., director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and distinguished chair for research excellence in chemistry at the University of Illinois. “But we are tackling these problems with more and more fidelity.”
Besides simulating these processes, scientists also are seeking ways to combine computational and experimental work. As Dunning notes, “There are things that are easier to do in a lab than on a computer, and some things can be done on a computer that are almost impossible to do in the lab.”
Getting the most from both requires improved techniques combining in-silico and real-world results.
Walking a nanowire
Many problems in energy revolve around conversion. For example, Giulia Galli, professor of chemistry and physics at the University of California, Davis, explores thermoelectric materials, which can change thermal energy to electricity and back. In particular, her team focuses on silicon nanowires – one-dimensional chains of silicon atoms a thousand times thinner than a hair.
To learn how efficiently silicon nanowires could convert heat to electricity, Galli and her colleagues run simulations at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.