Supercomputer award for physicist


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Dr Boella's research includes the solar wind which causes the northern lights

A Lancaster physicist has been granted access to one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe after a competitive bid. 

Dr Elisabetta Boella together with Dr Maria Elena Innocenti (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and Mr Alfredo Micera (Royal Observatory of Belgium) have been awarded 16.5 million CPUhours on the supercomputer Marconi at CINECA. 

This is equivalent to approximately £450,000 worth at a commercial rate of 0.027 £ per CPUhour. 

Dr Boella researches plasma physics including the solar wind which is a stream of plasma radiating from the Sun. 

“Under certain conditions, this flux of plasma can have a disastrous impact on our daily life on Earth, as it happened for instance in Quebec in 1989, when a geomagnetic storm caused the blackout of the power grids. Our work will thus not only answer a fundamental question, but it will also help to understand - and thus prevent - the cause of detrimental space weather events.”

Access to the Marconi supercomputer will enable her to perform simulations that will shed light into the physics of the heliosphere. The latter is the region of space surrounding the Sun and permeated by the plasma originating from our star.

“Through the awarded CPUtime, we intend to perform thorough numerical simulations to address a fundamental open challenge in heliophysics: the interconnection between microscopic, kinetic plasma scales and the large-scale evolution of the solar wind.“ 

This research will be highly complementary to the NASA mission Parker Solar Probe, "the mission to touch the Sun", currently orbiting around the sun, and ESA/NASA mission Solar Orbiter, scheduled for February 2020.

These missions will provide for the first time detailed data on the inner heliosphere, which Dr Boella and her colleagues could help interpret with results from the supercomputer simulations.

The award is from PRACE (Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe).


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