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May 18, 2011

URSA Supercomputer Illustrates Plant Processes

Nicole Hemsoth

Professor of physics at Georgia State University, Gary Hastings, has discovered a way to simulate the processes that occur during photosynthesis, a discovery that could lead to a more thorough understanding of how plants exchange light for growth energy.

According to GSU, Hastings developed a way of interpreting measurements behind the molecular interactions during the photosynthesizing process, thus offering researchers enhanced ability to develop mathematical models of the process.

Hastings harnesses the power of his university’s IBMp5 supercomputer, URSA, which he said allowed for the processing of huge calculations in a matter of days instead of the months it would have required running high-end desktops. The 36 node, 576-core URSA is based on the Power5+ processor and provides 18 TB or user disk storage with backups.

Although Hastings used the URSA system, his university recently upped its supercomputing might with the addition of CARINA, an IBM p7-755 with peak performance at 14 trillion calculations per second.

In an interview, Hastings said that his main questions revolved around looking at plants as a sort of solar powered batter. He noted that “the process is remarkably efficient, much more so than in artificial materials…the question is: how do electrons get across [a plant’s membrane] with such efficiency?”

This research could help biologist better anticipate the function of new plant strains as well as find a unique application in biofuel research.

Full story at The Financial