One of the world’s fastest supercomputers has performed a record number of simulations to help physicists in their quest to produce fusion energy.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers set all of their Sequoia supercomputer’s 1,572,864 processors (known as cores) on a single problem: modeling the motion of charged particles after a powerful laser beam strikes a dense cloud of ionized gas, called plasma. Using all of its cores, Sequoia can process 16.3 quadrillion calculations per second.
The machine is letting the team follow the simultaneous evolution of tens of billions to trillions of individual particles and the electromagnetic interactions between them. Such simulations are used extensively in plasma physics.
Researchers are using the simulation to study a proposed method known as fast ignition to spark and sustain a fusion reaction, the same process that powers the sun, in a laboratory. Fast ignition uses lasers that can deliver more than a petawatt of power (a million billion watts) in a fraction of a billionth of a second to heat compressed fuel to more than 50 million degrees Celsius. This is the temperature needed to initiate fusion reactions and release net energy.
"This historic calculation is an impressive demonstration of the power of high-performance computing to advance our scientific understanding of complex systems," said Bill Goldstein, the lab’s deputy director for science and technology. “With simulations like this, we can help transform the outlook for laboratory fusion as a tool for science, energy and stewardship of the nuclear stockpile.”