November 9, 2000


Dallas, Texas — As scientists study interactions at incredibly small levels, the implications of their work grow larger and larger.

Imagine an automobile air bag system that can calculate not only when but with how much force, to deploy an airbag based on the passenger’s size and weight. Picture a home water filter system that monitors pollutants as they pass through, sensing when levels rise too high and automatically adjusting the filtration process. Or, think about working in an office that could sense the your movements and reconfigure the office technology accordingly – for example, from shared video conference to private work mode.

Welcome to the world of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), an emerging field that uses microfabrication techniques to bring together electronic circuitry and three-dimensional structures and devices such as sensors and acuators onto silicon chips. In these systems that are measured in the millionths (micrometers) and billionths of a meter (nanometers), a working gear, sensor, or filter may be no larger than a grain of sand. More importantly, the behaviors of particles and individual electrons at this scale don’t follow the rules of classical physics. Engineers and scientists are working to document the basic behaviors of particles and electrons on the micro- and nanoscales. Their work could bring about reliable, low-cost integrated systems-on-a-chip that are “smart” enough to sense and respond to the needs of the user.

“Our ultimate goal is to create embedded systems that result in smart surfaces,” says Umberto Ravaioli, a University of Illinois electrical and computer engineering professor and a researcher with the Alliance Nanodevices team. Ravaioli says scientists are “just beginning to get their feet wet” in MEMS. He is one of three U of I researchers who are dipping their toes into the field by using the Alliance’s high performance computing systems at NCSA to conduct research into the behavior of air particles as they flow through microfilters no more than the diameter of a human hair. Narayan Aluru, an assistant professor in the U of I department of general engineering and a researcher in the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, and graduate research assistant Ozgur Aktas, are also part of the research project.

The research team is looking at how very small airborne particles flow through the microfilter’s elements, tiny holes that are no larger than 1 micrometer. These miniature filters are used to sift very small particles such as spores and bacteria. The entire filter array is usually only a few micrometers in diameter, or about the size of a quarter. As a micromechanical component of MEMS, these filter elements are often micromachined onto silicon. For example, a hand-held device to detect gas leaks could include not only a gas spectrometer small enough to fit on a chip but also a microfilter that would sift out extraneous particles such as dust. Including a microfilter on the chip would effectively purify the gas and allow the spectrometer to detect only the components it was designed to detect.

“At this point we need to study the behavior of these particles under various conditions because we don’t know much about the behavior of gases at this level,” says Aluru. “Computer simulation is the closest we can get to observing what happens in the real world.”

Aluru used funding from the NCSA Faculty Fellows program as seed money for the current research project. The Faculty Fellows program awards grants to faculty on the U of I’s Urbana-Champaign campus for research projects that could benefit from the use of NCSA or Alliance computing resources. The researchers are running simulations on NCSA’s NT supercluster and SGI Origin2000 supercomputer using Direct Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) techniques to simulate the behavior of air particles in filters ranging in size from .05 to 1 micrometer. The DSMC method samples a significant number of the particles as they flow in, out, and around the intake area of the filter element. From this random sample, the researchers draw general conclusions about the behavior of the particles.

The team’s first simulations involved about 5 million molecules flowing through the filter element. Each simulation-one on the NT supercluster and one on the Origin2000-used 64 processors for about 14 hours. An accurate 3D simulation of all flow features of a microfilter element would require about 300 million molecules, something that is practically impossible even on the best of today’s supercomputers. To address this problem, the team is developing new multiscale methods of computing and simulating their data.

The team’s simulations track a wide range of conditions such as air pressure and temperature at different flow rates as well as differences in pressure at the filter’s intake and output points. The simulations follow each of the millions of molecules on their journey through the microfilter, noting when they flow smoothly through the filter, when they hit the walls of the filter, and when they collide with each other. Understanding these basic behaviors of gases at this level, says Aluru, can help answer some elementary design questions, such as the optimal shape of a microfilter or how much pressure a tiny filter can take before it bursts.

“There are some basic engineering questions that need to answered,” notes Aluru. “We need to know about the effects of pressure differences between intake and output, the effects of more or fewer [filter] holes, how the roughness of the surfaces effects flow, or what happens when you reduce the interactions among gases.”

Results so far show that the behavior of filter elements is not governed by classical models of fluid transport. In addition, surface conditions in the filter elements-such as roughness and how particles interact with the surface of the filter-play important roles in determining the behavior of particles at very small scales. Additional 3D simulations will provide even more insight into the behavior of particles at this scale and will lay the foundations for developing nanoscale filter elements, Aluru predicts.

“We’ve learned a lot, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done,” says Ravaioli. He hopes that in the not-too-distant future, simulations of the workings of entire microelectromechanical systems will be possible-simulations that could require as many as 40,000 processors on clusters or Origin2000 systems.

“This is an emerging discipline that will require an enormous amount of compute power,” he says. “It will push the development of terascale computing systems.”

This research is supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the NCSA Faculty Fellows Program, and a University of Illinois Computer Science and Engineering Fellowship.


Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

What’s New in Computing vs. COVID-19: Fugaku, Congress, De Novo Design & More

July 2, 2020

Supercomputing, big data and artificial intelligence are crucial tools in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Around the world, researchers, corporations and governments are urgently devoting their computing reso Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time last year, IBM announced open sourcing its Power instructio Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Career Notes: July 2020 Edition

July 1, 2020

In this monthly feature, we'll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high-performance computing community. Whether it's a promotion, new company hire, or even an accolade, we've got Read more…

By Mariana Iriarte

Supercomputers Enable Radical, Promising New COVID-19 Drug Development Approach

July 1, 2020

Around the world, innumerable supercomputers are sifting through billions of molecules in a desperate search for a viable therapeutic to treat COVID-19. Those molecules are pulled from enormous databases of known compoun Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPC-Powered Simulations Reveal a Looming Climatic Threat to Vital Monsoon Seasons

June 30, 2020

As June draws to a close, eyes are turning to the latter half of the year – and with it, the monsoon and hurricane seasons that can prove vital or devastating for many of the world’s coastal communities. Now, climate Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

Maxar Builds HPC on AWS to Deliver Forecasts 58% Faster Than Weather Supercomputer

When weather threatens drilling rigs, refineries, and other energy facilities, oil and gas companies want to move fast to protect personnel and equipment. And for firms that trade commodity shares in oil, precious metals, crops, and livestock, the weather can significantly impact their buy-sell decisions. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This year is no different though the conversion of ISC to a digital Read more…

By John Russell

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ISC 2020 Keynote: Hope for the Future, Praise for Fugaku and HPC’s Pandemic Response

June 24, 2020

In stark contrast to past years Thomas Sterling’s ISC20 keynote today struck a more somber note with the COVID-19 pandemic as the central character in Sterling’s annual review of worldwide trends in HPC. Better known for his engaging manner and occasional willingness to poke prickly egos, Sterling instead strode through the numbing statistics associated... Read more…

By John Russell

ISC 2020’s Student Cluster Competition Winners Announced

June 24, 2020

Normally, the Student Cluster Competition involves teams of students building real computing clusters on the show floors of major supercomputer conferences and Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Hoefler’s Whirlwind ISC20 Virtual Tour of ML Trends in 9 Slides

June 23, 2020

The ISC20 experience this year via livestreaming and pre-recordings is interesting and perhaps a bit odd. That said presenters’ efforts to condense their comments makes for economic use of your time. Torsten Hoefler’s whirlwind 12-minute tour of ML is a great example. Hoefler, leader of the planned ISC20 Machine Learning... Read more…

By John Russell

At ISC, the Fight Against COVID-19 Took the Stage – and Yes, Fugaku Was There

June 23, 2020

With over nine million infected and nearly half a million dead, the COVID-19 pandemic has seized the world’s attention for several months. It has also dominat Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers


Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This