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07/31/1997 07:00:00

Caltech Named Recipient of Federal Computational Science and Simulation Contract

WASHINGTON—The California Institute of Technology has been awarded a multimillion-dollar contract as part of a major new Department of Energy (DOE) effort to advance computational modeling.

The five-year contract to Caltech is one of five announced at a press conference in Washington today by DOE Secretary Federico Peña as part of the new 10-year, $250 million Academic Strategic Alliances Program (ASAP) of the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI). The goal of the ASCI research program is to ensure the safety and reliability of America's nuclear stockpile without actual nuclear testing.

Academic institutions chosen to participate in the ASAP program will not be involved in research related to nuclear weapons. Rather, each university will pursue the simulation of an overarching application and will collaborate with the national laboratories in developing the computational science and infrastructure required for "virtual testing." In the process, scientists say, the program will also pave the way for significant advances in a host of peacetime applications requiring high-performance computing.

"President Clinton has challenged us to find a way to keep our nuclear stockpile safe, reliable and secure without nuclear testing," said Secretary Peña. "We're going to meet his challenge through computer simulations that verify the safety, reliability and performance of our nuclear weapons stockpile. I believe these Alliances will produce a flood of new technologies and ideas that will improve the quality of our lives and boost our economy. In fact — with the Academic Strategic Alliance Program in place — Americans will begin to see the results, as the acronym suggests, ASAP."

Caltech's role in the ASCI-ASAP initiative will be to model the response of materials to intense shock waves caused by explosions or impact at high velocity. According to faculty participants, the research will be of great benefit to a number of civilian applications where the behavior of materials exposed to shock waves is important.

Professor Steven Koonin, Caltech's vice president and provost and a professor of theoretical physics, commented that "this grant will enable Caltech researchers to advance the frontiers of large-scale computer simulation, to develop the algorithms and software that can exploit the extraordinarily capable hardware available.

"It is also important that our ASCI effort will educate students in broadly applicable simulation technology," Koonin added. "And by strengthening Caltech's ties with the national laboratories, the Institute will be contributing to the major national goal of science-based stockpile stewardship."

Dan Meiron, professor of applied mathematics at Caltech and principal investigator of the project, said that "the ASAP research program is unique in that by posing the challenge of developing the large-scale modeling and simulation capability required to address our particular overarching application, ASCI pushes multidisciplinary research to a new level."

Dr. Paul Messina, Caltech's assistant vice president for scientific computing and director of the Center for Advanced Computing Research (CACR), said that the ASCI initiative is an important step toward computational fidelity. "The exciting thing for me is the tremendous progress we'll make in computational science and engineering.

"This major project is unique in that it requires the integration of software components developed by researchers from a number of disciplines." Messina added that the ASCI initiative will lead quickly to advances in both computer hardware and software.

"The proposed research will involve all three of the state-of-the-art ASCI-class machines," Messina said, adding that these three computers are located at the Livermore, Sandia, and Los Alamos national labs. The first of the machines that was completed, which is located at Sandia, recently became the first computer to complete a trillion numerical computations in a second.

"Such computational power is vital for success of the ASCI initiative, Messina said. "The data sets generated by these computations are very large. A big part of the program is how to manage those computational resources optimally when you have thousands of processors, and how to support one overarching application when you have a large variety of length and time scales."

Caltech's proposal to the DOE outlines the construction of "a virtual shock physics facility in which the full three-dimensional response of a variety of target materials can be computed from a wide range of compressive, tensional, and sheer loadings including those loadings produced by detonation of energetic materials." Goals of the research will include improving the ability to compute experiments employing shock and detonation waves, computing the dynamic response of materials to the waves, and validating the computations against real-world experimental data.

These shock waves will be simulated as they pass through various phases (i.e., gas, liquid, and solid). The work could have applications for the synthesis of new materials or the interactions of explosions with structures. The work will also provide lab scientists in the federal Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship (SBSS) program a tool to simulate high-explosive detonation and ignition.

The ASCI-ASAP program at Caltech will involve the research groups of 18 Caltech professors from across the campus, including Tom Ahrens, a geophysicist; Joe Shepherd, an aeronautics engineer; Oscar Bruno, an applied mathematician; William Goddard, a chemist; Tom Tombrello, a physicist; and Mani Chandy and Peter Schröder, computer scientists. James Pool, deputy director of the CACR, will serve as executive director for the project.

Caltech is the lead university of the ASCI-ASAP contract to simulate the dynamic response of materials. Also participating with Caltech in this project are the Carnegie Institute of Washington, Brown University, the University of Illinois, Indiana University, and the University of Tennessee.

The other schools to receive ASCI-ASAP contracts are the University of Chicago, the University of Utah, Stanford University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne.