Computer May Reveal Nature of Matter
The elementary nature of matter and origins of the universe may be unlocked by physicists using a new high-capability computer system unveiled Wednesday at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.
The system developed at Fermilab will allow physicists to conduct experiments involving as many as 100 million independent events, said Thomas Nash, head of the Fermilab Advanced Computer Program.
Nash and associates unveiled the array Wednesday and said it will eventually involve 140 computer processors working in unison.
“This is the first real ‘I’ve-got-to-have-it’ piece of equipment for this sort of research,” Nash said. “It’s really an example of the business axiom, ‘If you need it and can’t buy it, invent it.’ ”
Leptons and Quarks
Physicists at Fermilab and elsewhere have been trying to isolate and study the primary building blocks of matter, elusive entities known as leptons and quarks. Characterizing these particles and how they work is expected to lead to a better understanding of the fundamental processes that gave birth to the universe.
At Fermilab, scientists observe these entities by sending protons, antiprotons and other subatomic particles racing in opposite directions around a giant accelerator ring four miles in circumference, then colliding them as they approach the speed of light. The subatomic particles shatter, revealing for an instant their primary components.
These experiments, however, create huge amounts of data--information that cannot be economically computed using older computers and that takes physicists away from more important work, Nash said.
Many complicated experiments such as those done at Fermilab would be economically impossible using the older computers, which take the better part of a second to analyze a single event and would take years of computer time to finish a complicated high-energy physics experiment.
Scientists at Fermilab have at least three experiments running that would require more than a year of computing time on a high-powered Cyber 175. The new system, which costs $500,000, contrasted with $3.5 million for a Cyber 175, can run the same data in less than two months.
The new system, which is 40% complete with 53 processors running, is not one of the so-called super computers being used at other research institutions around the country, Nash said.
Although those also involve several processors working together, the Fermilab computer does not require sophisticated communication between processors, since all of the experimental events are independent.