How HPC research into 'miracle material' will drive commercial success
Biagio Lucini is a professor of Physics at Swansea University and a Royal Society University Research Fellow. His research group is using high performance computing ‘or ‘supercomputing’ provided by HPC Wales to carry out world-class research within the field of theoretical particle physics to develop a better understanding of the newly discovered and recently dubbed ‘miracle material’ Graphene. In collaboration with a Swansea based business, the results are expected to have big benefits for industry in Wales. He says:
“By developing a good understanding of the theoretical properties of Graphene, we will put businesses in Wales in a great position to take advantage of our results in their product development, building stronger products at a cheaper cost. In the short to medium term there will be a number of industrial applications the results of our research can be applied to.”
Inspired by his own desire to discover new things, Professor Lucini explains:
“Since an unsolved or unproved theory is worth nothing in this game, we look to find answers. Supercomputers enable us to carry out millions of calculations very quickly to arrive at solutions to problems. Graphene is a newly discovered material, a sheet of graphite one atom thick that’s the strongest material discovered to date and conducts electricity at an incredible speed.
“It has enormous potential but is not used on a large scale as of yet. Using supercomputers we will be able to develop an understanding of its theoretical properties using numerical simulations.”
A business has already been set up in Swansea with the intention of commercialising the results in their forthcoming product developments.
Professor Lucini says: “We are also contributing to the HPC sector itself. As leaders within our field, we are developing new techniques for analysing physics data on a supercomputer. These techniques will be available for businesses needing to analyse their data in a similar way.”
As for many researchers and businesses, speed of calculation and the ability to access large data and datasets quickly are fundamental.
“HPC is essential. I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing without HPC – it simply wouldn’t be competitive,” he says. “My field of research is continually evolving - new breakthroughs come roughly every other year. You have to be quick in understanding them and getting on board.”
“It is a very competitive field where three things count: your knowledge of physics, your ability to write highly performing codes, and the resources you have at your disposal at a given time. I could be the best researcher within this field, but if nobody gives me a HPC system to run codes, there’s nothing I could do.”
Professor Lucini adds: “I also enjoy working with high performance computers, the techniques involved and the writing of fast and efficient programs and watching them scale on a large number of cores – HPC is now my world!”
HPC Wales makes HPC more accessible than ever before.
“I can say in all honesty that HPC Wales has been the most professionally set up system that I have used so far. It’s really a pleasure to use, because it has taken very little time to get to grips with,” he says: “Following a few emails between myself and the technical team, I had uploaded my data and was running my code within 1 hour of being set up on the system”.
In terms of advice for others wondering if supercomputing could be relevant to them, Professor Lucini says:
“It’s less scary than it looks at first sight. For those with basic computing experience you could go from using a desktop to a HPC system in next to no time. We are talking about weeks here; in a few weeks you should be able to port your code and be well on your way.”