Since 1986 - Covering the Fastest Computers in the World and the People Who Run Them

Language Flags
September 12, 2013

Ice-Repellant Materials One Step Closer

Tiffany Trader

Scientists at GE Global Research are using the multi-petaflop Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to study the way that ice forms as water droplets come in contact with cold surfaces. They are working to develop “icephobic” materials that prevent ice formation and accumulation.

“We have observed that certain types of surfaces hinder ice formation, but the exact mechanism was unknown,” writes GE High Performance Computing Advocate Rick Arthur in a recent blog entry. “We use simulations as a means to gain insight into the conditions under which ice can be suppressed.”

There are numerous industrial systems that would benefit from such a technology. Wind turbines, offshore oil & gas drilling and production rigs can withstand very cold climates, even rain and snow, but ice can be a game-stopper. The researchers were awarded 80 million CPU hours on Titan through the Department of Energy ASCR Leadership Computing Challenge to advance this science.

The blog entry highlights the work of Dr. Masako Yamada, a scientist in GE’s Advanced Computing Lab. Simulations help Dr. Yamada and her colleagues to better understand ice resistance. The effectiveness of the candidate surfaces is evaluated based on four potential effects:

1) lowering freezing temperature, 2) delaying onset of freezing, 3) reducing adhesion (stickiness) between ice and surface, and/or 4) bouncing water droplets off before they can freeze.

Modeling and simulation are crucial to help narrow down potential candidates, but as Dr. Yamada explains, the computational technique – molecular dynamics – is notoriously time-consuming.

“‘Molecular’ means we track the position of every single water molecule. ‘Dynamics’ means we calculate very short slices of time,” she says.

Only the most powerful supercomputers in the world, machines like Titan, can handle this kind of compute-intensive work. Retooling their application to run on GPUs was another big step. The team achieved a 5x speedup by converting their code to run on Titan’s GPU accelerators.

“Even so,” says Yamada, “we can only model water droplets that are about 50 nanometers in size (far smaller than real world droplets) and we still cannot run our models to simulate as long a time period as we would like.”

The use of virtual models, as opposed to “real-life” experiments, allows for greater insight into the process:

“We can see exactly how the water molecules interact with the surfaces,” notes Yamada. “This is simply impossible using any physical test. In addition, in the virtual world, the results are not impacted by dirt, defects and other random sources of noise.”

Ultimately, the research will help establish a new class of materials. From safer aircraft engines to self-defrosting car windshields and even frustration-free ice cream scoops, the potential applications range as far as the imagination.

SC14 Virtual Booth Tours

AMD SC14 video AMD Virtual Booth Tour @ SC14
Click to Play Video
Cray SC14 video Cray Virtual Booth Tour @ SC14
Click to Play Video
Datasite SC14 video DataSite and RedLine @ SC14
Click to Play Video
HP SC14 video HP Virtual Booth Tour @ SC14
Click to Play Video
IBM DCS3860 and Elastic Storage @ SC14 video IBM DCS3860 and Elastic Storage @ SC14
Click to Play Video
IBM Flash Storage
@ SC14 video IBM Flash Storage @ SC14  
Click to Play Video
IBM Platform @ SC14 video IBM Platform @ SC14
Click to Play Video
IBM Power Big Data SC14 video IBM Power Big Data @ SC14
Click to Play Video
Intel SC14 video Intel Virtual Booth Tour @ SC14
Click to Play Video
Lenovo SC14 video Lenovo Virtual Booth Tour @ SC14
Click to Play Video
Mellanox SC14 video Mellanox Virtual Booth Tour @ SC14
Click to Play Video
Panasas SC14 video Panasas Virtual Booth Tour @ SC14
Click to Play Video
Quanta SC14 video Quanta Virtual Booth Tour @ SC14
Click to Play Video
Seagate SC14 video Seagate Virtual Booth Tour @ SC14
Click to Play Video
Supermicro SC14 video Supermicro Virtual Booth Tour @ SC14
Click to Play Video