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September 9, 2013

Supercomputing for Super Magnets

Tiffany Trader

Last week Japanese IT company Fujitsu used the K supercomputer to conduct the world’s first simulation of the magnetization-reversal process in a permanent magnet. According to an announcement from the firm, “this opens up new possibilities in the manufacture of electric motors, generators and other devices without relying on heavy rare earth elements.”

The process of magnetization reversal is a worthy avenue of scientific study, but to accurately model magnetic materials requires an enormous amount of computing power. The technique that Fujitsu developed combines a finite-element method with micromagnetics, the process of dividing magnets into regions the size of a few atoms. This technology makes it possible to compute magnetization processes with complex microstructures on a nanometer scale, many times smaller than conventional methods.

The research is viewed as a stepping stone toward the development of new magnetic materials, including strong magnets free from heavy rare earth elements. This is important because the supply for these elements is limited. State-of-the-art motors like the ones used in hybrid and electric vehicles rely on these heavy rare earth elements, so the advent of new super magnets would be a boon to this growing sector.

The simulations of magnetization reversal in rare-earth magnets were performed on the K supercomputer in cooperation with Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS). On September 5, the results of this simulation were presented jointly by Fujitsu and NIMS at the 37th Annual Conference on Magnetics in Japan being held at Hokkaido University.

Developed by Fujitsu, the K supercomputer is installed at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AICS) in Kobe, Japan. It is the number four system on the most recent TOP500 list with a performance of 10.51 petaflops (Linpack).

The next step is for researchers to perform ultra-large-scale computations on the K system and develop a “multi-scale magnetic simulator.”

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