DOE Opens Up Weapons Labs' Supercomputers

Supercomputers at the Department of Energy's (DOE's) nuclear weapons labs--including the world's fastest--will soon become available to scientists at five U.S. universities, Secretary of Energy Federico Peña announced yesterday. Each university will receive roughly $3 million over the next year in the first stage of the department's Academic Strategic Alliances Program, projected as a $250 million effort over the next decade for these universities to develop unclassified computer simulations of nuclear explosions.

Last year, the Clinton Administration started the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative to test the U.S. nuclear arsenal not by firing off warheads, but with simulations on the DOE's supercomputers at Sandia, Livermore, and Los Alamos national laboratories. Now the plan is to add academic researchers to help develop software for this effort. DOE will hand out 10% of the available computing time on its labs' three new supercomputers, plus grants to faculty members and postdocs at the five chosen universities. "Our faculty and graduates students are very excited about getting access to DOE's machines," says John Hennessy, dean of Stanford's School of Engineering.

The schools were chosen from 48 institutions that submitted proposals for specific research problems that relate to simulated testing of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The proposals were reviewed by an expert panel from DOE labs and the computer and aircraft industries. The money will be used by interdisciplinary teams formed to work on a common problem. They include:

  • Center for Simulation of Advanced Rockets at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign;
  • Computational Facility for Simulating the Dynamic Response of Materials at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena;
  • Center for Simulation of Accidental Fires and Explosions at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City;
  • Center on Astrophysical Thermonuclear Flashes at the University of Chicago; and
  • Center for Integrated Turbulence Simulations in Propulsion Systems at Stanford University.