September 11, 2013

MOOSE Enables ‘Plug and Play’ Simulations

Tiffany Trader

Idaho National Laboratory (INL) continues its development of an advanced software framework for simulating the behavior of complex systems, called MOOSE. Work on MOOSE, which stands for Multiphysics Object-Oriented Simulation Environment, began in 2008. The development team started with computer code and numerical libraries from existing, proven “massively scaling numerical tools” and kept enhancing this new framework, which now boasts high-level features, including a “hybrid parallel mode” and “mesh adaptivity.”

Jason Miller, part of the team that developed MOOSE, runs the MARMOT code, which models microscopic changes in nuclear fuel during irradiation. Source.

The MOOSE development team is working to make simulation more accessible by making it easier to create simulation capabilities for complex mathematical models in fields like nuclear science, physics and chemistry. MOOSE opens up the advantages of simulation to all these domain experts – so they can advance their science without also having to become computer scientists.

“People were doing these simulations before, but they had to develop the entire code,” said Derek Gaston, the computational mathematician leading INL’s Computational Frameworks Group. “Something that would take 5 years with a team of 10 people can now be done in 1 year with three people.”

MOOSE’s biggest success has been in the field of nuclear energy research. For nuclear engineers studying irradiation’s complex effect on materials and reactor components, mathematical models and computer simulations are enormously helpful. Irradiation experiments are expensive and time-consuming, requiring multiple steps that can add up to years before a result is achieved. Modeling and simulation help steer the research in the right direction and allow the scientists to design a better, i.e., more focused, experiment.

Although the computational assist is advantageous it is not without challenges. As this article from Idaho National Laboratory explains: “Building simulations is a time-consuming task requiring an entire team of people with detailed understanding of everything from parallel code development to the physics of the system under study. Most scientists are not programmers (and vice versa), so tackling simulation often proved too daunting.”

This is where MOOSE comes in. According to the INL piece, “MOOSE carries much of the programming burden, making simulation tools more accessible for a wide array of researchers.”

MOOSE was designed to be a general problem solver, capable of accommodating multiple mathematical models. Its plug-and-play design lets researchers enter the information that describes their system and MOOSE does the rest.

That’s the beauty of MOOSE, according to Steve Hayes, an INL nuclear engineer who leads irradiation testing and post-irradiation examination (PIE) for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Cycle R&D program. “The user needs to know the governing equations for his or her field, and MOOSE solves them for you, meaning the scientist can focus on the science,” says Hayes.

In keeping with the theme of increased accessibility, MOOSE runs on personal workstations, so researchers can carry out powerful simulations without a supercomputer.

“MOOSE has revolutionized predictive modeling,” according to an article at INL, “especially in the field of nuclear engineering – allowing nuclear fuels and materials scientists to develop numerous applications that predict the behavior of fuels and materials under operating and accident conditions.”

The simplicity of MOOSE has led to an entire ecosystem of tools, including applications for nuclear physics (BISON, MARMOT), geology (FALCON), chemistry (RAT) and engineering (RAVEN, Pronghorn).