Researchers Break Supercomputing Record while Advancing Cancer Research

IBM supercomputer bubble bursting simulation


Scientists at ETH Zurich and IBM Research in Switzerland have set a new record in fluid dynamics supercomputing through its simulation of bursting bubbles. The simulation could lead to advances in kidney stone and cancer treatment as well as improvements in high pressure fuel injector technology.

In collaboration with the Technical University of Munich, the scientists simulated 15,000 bursting bubbles using 6.4 million threads on Sequoia, the IBM machine at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory listed as the third-fastest supercomputer in the world. The simulation was the largest ever in fluid dynamics with a sustained performance of 14.4 Pentaflops, using 73% of the Sequoia’s theoretical peak. Because of its work the research team has been named a finalist for the 2013 Gordon Bell Prize.

The researchers are certainly proud to headline the Top500 supercomputers list, but they are also thrilled by the potential applications of these supercomputing machines. “While the Top500 list will continue to generate global interest,” said Alessandro Curioni, head of mathematical and computational sciences department at IBM Research, Zurich, “the applications of these machines and how they are used to tackle some of the world’s most pressing human and business issues more accurately quantifies the evolution of supercomputing.”


Advances in Supercomputing

IBM collapsing bubbles simulation screenshotThe simulation produced a 150-fold improvement over previous research and a 20-fold reduction in time to solution. These advances open the doors to further investigation into “cloud cavitation collapse,” the study of the damaging shockwaves produced by collapsing vapor cavities or bubbles. In the past the sudden, violent and complex nature of cavitation collapse has made it difficult for scientists to simulate or quantitatively understand the phenomena. For the first time, however, it appears that supercomputers could prove a feasible tool in large scale flow simulations. Petros Koumoutsakos, director of the Computational Science and Engineering Laboratory at ETH Zurich who led the simulation, said, “In the last 10 years we have addressed a fundamental problem of computational science: the ever increasing gap of hardware capabilities and their effective utilization to solve engineering problems.”


Advances in Health and Industrial Technology

The scientist’s simulations advance the research behind several real-world applications of collapsing bubbles. For one, the technology could be used to improve the design of high pressure fuel injectors and propellers. Collapsing bubbles could also be used to shatter kidney stones due to their high pressure. Collapsing bubbles could also be used to destroy tumorous cancer cells and to precisely deliver cancer drugs exactly where they are needed.

Do you know of any other applications of collapsing bubbles?

Image via IBM

Lauren Mobertz

By Lauren Mobertz

Lauren is the former managing editor for DashBurst. One part geek, one part urban nomad, she is constantly scouting for the latest tech and world news. In the evenings you'll find Lauren running in strange places or attempting to dance salsa.