University of Leicester hosts national supercomputing meeting, showcasing science from the smallest and largest scales

Posted by er134 at Sep 20, 2013 10:18 AM |
UK researchers will come to the University of Leicester to showcase the first year of findings from a new national supercomputing facility at DiRAC Day 2013 on Monday, 23 September

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 20 September 2013

Photo opportunity: Researchers presenting findings from research using UK supercomputer DiRAC. 12.30pm, Monday 23 September at Stamford Court, Manor Road, Oadby, LE2 2LH. Dr Mark Wilkinson at:

The University of Leicester will host DiRAC Day 2013, a major national supercomputing event, on Monday, 23 September.

Researchers in astrophysics, particle physics and cosmology from across the UK will present the latest scientific advances which have been made possible by the Distributed Research utilising Advanced Computing (DiRAC) supercomputer.

At the meeting, being held in the new University of Leicester conference centre, University of Leicester researchers will present their new computer models of the growth of supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies.

The team from the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy will present findings from their first year of using the “Complexity” computer, the node of DiRAC hosted by the University of Leicester.

The other DiRAC nodes are hosted by the Universities of Cambridge, Durham and Edinburgh.

The DiRAC facility was launched in 2012, and has allowed researchers to model physical processes governing the evolution of the Universe in far greater detail than was previously possible.

The team from Leicester’s Theoretical Astrophysics Group, within the Department of Physics and Astronomy, are currently using the £2 million Complexity computer on a number of exciting projects.

One of these looks at feedback from supermassive black holes in galaxy centres - with researchers using DiRAC to model powerful outflows from the black holes and how they affect their host galaxy.

This can tell us a lot about the evolution and structure of galaxies – including our own.

It will also help us to model what happens at the stage when a supermassive black hole has expelled or eaten all of the material out of the galaxy – leaving no gas for the formation of new stars.

PhD student Martin Bourne, who will present findings from the project at the event on Monday, said: “Most galaxies have a supermassive black hole in their centre, and there’s a stage in the evolution of the galaxy where the black hole grows rapidly by accreting material.

“This releases a lot of energy in the form of powerful outflows. Previous models assumed that these outflows tend to “hurt” galaxies by sweeping them clear of gas. This leaves behind only stars, and terminates further growth of the galaxy.

“However, numerical simulations of the past year or so show that it is far more difficult to expel gas from the galaxy if it can form dense cold clumps. Instead of being expelled these clumps actually get compressed and turned into new stars very rapidly.

“Thus we now find that black holes can actually speed up galaxy building early on. Only once the galaxy runs out of cold gas do the black holes remove the rest of the gas and abort any further growth.

“Our research therefore shows that a black hole’s role in galaxy formation is not so uniquely negative as previously thought.”

Thanks to Complexity’s 4,352 central processing units, the supercomputer can handle 90.5 trillion operations a second – meaning the complicated simulations required for the team’s research are not a problem.

Martin said: “A simulation that would take months on a desktop computer can be performed in days or less on DiRAC depending on the simulation in question and how many processors are used.

“Using simulations on DiRAC also has the benefit of allowing us to study very complex and ‘messy’ systems; this would be next to impossible to achieve using pen-and-paper analytical techniques.”

Dr Mark Wilkinson, a member of the Theoretical Astrophysics Group at the University of Leicester, national co-Chair of DiRAC and the organiser of DiRAC Day 2013, said: “DiRAC Day 2013 will be a great opportunity to hear about how each of the groups around the country is using the DiRAC facility to make new scientific discoveries. We had very high expectations for DiRAC this year, and it is exciting to see that we have achieved them.”

During the event, Leicester researchers will also present findings from their other DiRAC research projects – including planet formation within other solar systems and dark matter.

They will join over 60 researchers from more than 15 Universities across the UK, along with technical support staff from Leicester and the other three DiRAC sites. All the major computing vendors who supplied DiRAC with hardware will also be attending.

The event is sponsored by OCF, a leading UK-based high performance server and storage cluster integrator. Dell and Panasas are also supporting aspects of the meeting.

The event will be held at the University’s Stamford Court conference centre, Manor Road, Oadby, LE2 2LH, from 10.30am to 5pm on Monday, 23 September.



For more information, please contact Dr Mark Wilkinson at:

Martin Bourne can be contacted on 0116 252 2084 or at:

DiRAC was initially funded with an investment of £12.32 million by the Government's Large Facilities Capital Fund, with the Science and Technology Facilities Council and from individual universities. In 2012, the DiRAC facility was upgraded with another £15 million investment from the department of Business Innovation and Skills.

More information about the DiRAC project can be found at:

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