2021 Gordon Bell Prize Goes to Exascale-Powered Quantum Supremacy Challenge

By Oliver Peckham

November 18, 2021

Today at the hybrid virtual/in-person SC21 conference, the organizers announced the winners of the 2021 ACM Gordon Bell Prize: a team of Chinese researchers leveraging the new exascale Sunway system to simulate quantum circuits.

The Gordon Bell Prize, which comes with an award of $10,000 courtesy of HPC pioneer Gordon Bell, is awarded annually to an outstanding achievement in high-performance computing, with ACM intending to “track the progress over time of parallel computing, with particular emphasis on rewarding innovation in applying high-performance computing to applications in science, engineering, and large-scale data analytics.” Hundreds of volunteers evaluated the submissions for the ACM awards, and eventually, the selection committee settled on six finalists for the 2021 Gordon Bell Prize.

Over the course of the week, the six finalists for the Gordon Bell Prize presented their research, spanning quantum computing, molecular dynamics, spectroscopy and fusion energy. The researchers used a series of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, including the Anton 3 molecular dynamics specialist system, Summit (the most powerful publicly ranked system in the United States), Fugaku (the four-time reigning champion of the Top500) and the recently (partially) unveiled Sunway exascale system in China, which collected three of the six nominations.

But with SC21 beginning to come to wind down, Mark Parsons, chair of the Gordon Bell Prize selection committee, took the stage this afternoon to unveil the winners. And the winning research is…


Winner of the 2021 ACM Gordon Bell Prize

Closing the “Quantum Supremacy” Gap: Achieving Real-Time Simulation of a Random Quantum Circuit Using a New Sunway Supercomputer
Yong (Alexander) Liu, Xin (Lucy) Liu, Fang (Nancy) Li, Haohuan Fu, Yuling Yang, Jiawei Song, Pengpeng Zhao, Zhen Wang, Dajia Peng, Huarong Chen, Chu Guo, Heliang Huang, Wenzhao Wu and Dexun Chen

The fourteen researchers (whose affiliations span Zhejiang Lab, Tsinghua University, the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi and the Shanghai Research Center for Quantum Sciences) leveraged the massive new Sunway exascale system that was more or less revealed during SC21 to conduct groundbreaking simulation of a quantum circuit.

“With Google’s “Quantum Supremacy” declaration in 2019, stating that the Sycamore superconductive quantum computer is over a billion times faster than Summit (comparing 200 seconds against 10,000 years in the task of measuring/simulating one million samples), the dawn of the quantum age starts to unfold in a more affirmative way,” the researchers wrote. “A later response from the IBM research team argues that they can accomplish the simulation on the classical Summit supercomputer … within a few days instead of 10,000 years.”

The team used the sampling of quantum states of a random quantum circuit as an example problem for the closing of this hotly debated quantum advantage. The researchers’ random quantum circuit simulator, combined with the firepower of the Sunway exascale system, simulated a 10×10(qubits)×(1+40+1)(depth) circuit at a sustained performance of a staggering 1.2 exaflops of single-precision computing power, or 4.4 exaflops of mixed-precision, which the researchers say is “A new milestone for classical simulation of quantum circuits.” They reduced the simulation sampling time to 304 seconds from that previous estimate of 10,000 years.

Courtesy of the researchers, a summary of major classical random quantum circuit simulations. The X axis denotes the number of qubits, while the Y axis shows the corresponding memory space required. The sizes of the circles and rectangles denote the complexity/depth of the circuit.

To learn more about the Gordon Bell Prize-winning research, read the paper here.


ACM Gordon Bell Prize nominees

While the quantum simulation research is taking home the prize, the other five nominees represent some of the most intensive research for some of the most pressing research applications in the world. Brief descriptions are included below; follow the links to their respective papers to learn more about each of the teams’ remarkable work.

Anton 3: Twenty Microseconds of Molecular Dynamics Simulation Before Lunch
A whopping 67 researchers collaborated on this research, which resulted in the development of the specialized Anton 3 molecular dynamics supercomputer designed and built by D.E. Shaw Research. Anton 3, the researchers reported, is capable of simulating a million atoms at 100 microseconds per day across 512 nodes using an order of magnitude less energy per simulated microsecond than any other machine. To accomplish this feat, they implemented a series of architectural and algorithmic improvements, including a new, custom network, specialized pairwise interactions at different precisions and a new method called the “Manhattan Method” that addresses non-bonded interactions. To learn more, read the paper here.

A 400 Trillion-Grid Vlasov Simulation on Fugaku Supercomputer: Large-Scale Distribution of Cosmic Relic Neutrinos in a Six-Dimensional Phase Space
This November, Fugaku netted its fourth top-place win on the Top500 following its early launch in the spring of 2020 to combat COVID through intensive simulations. Here, a trio of researchers from three Japanese universities again demonstrate the sheer power of the list-topper – this time, through a massive simulation of cosmic relic neutrinos combined with N-body simulation of cold dark matter. The largest of their simulations spanned 400 trillion grids and 330 billion-body calculations, “reproducing accurately the nonlinear dynamics of neutrinos in the universe.” Once optimized on Fugaku, the researchers scaled across 147,456 nodes, showing up to 96 percent weak scaling and up to 93 percent strong scaling. To learn more, read the paper here.

Symplectic Structure-Preserving Particle-in-Cell Whole-Volume Simulation of Tokamak Plasmas to 111.3 Trillion Particles and 25.7 Billion Grids
If you don’t yet know what a tokamak is, just know that they might save the world: tokamaks use magnetism to trap plasma for the production of fusion energy. However, tokamaks are notoriously delicate and unstable, hence the current infeasibility of productive fusion energy. The HPC sector is working to change that: these dozen researchers from China, also using the new Sunway system, simulated the whole-volume confinement toroidal plasmas of a tokamak. These simulations reached up to 111.3 trillion particles and 25.7 billion grids, achieving sustained performance in excess of 201 petaflops double-precision, with the fastest iteration step hitting 298.2. To learn more, read the paper here.

Extreme-Scale Ab Initio Quantum Raman Spectra Simulations on the Leadership HPC System in China
This research, also leveraging the new Sunway exascale system, pushed Raman spectroscopy – a kind of structural fingerprinting – to new limits. “Raman spectroscopy,” these dozen researchers from China explain, “provides chemical and compositional information that can serve as a structural fingerprint for various materials. Therefore, simulations of Raman spectra, including both quantum perturbation analyses and ground-state calculations, are of significant interest.” Full quantum mechanical simulations of Raman spectra for biological materials have proved particularly difficult, and here, the researchers conduct “fast, accurate, massively parallel full ab initio simulations of the Raman spectra of realistic biological systems” up to 3,006 atoms, achieving up to 468.5 petaflops in double-precision and 813.7 petaflops in mixed-half-precision and indicating “the potential for new applications of the QM approach to biological systems.” To learn more, read the paper here.

Billion Atom Molecular Dynamics Simulations of Carbon at Extreme Conditions and Experimental Time and Length Scales
These researchers observed the “long-sought” BC8 phase of carbon under extreme pressure and extreme temperature. To do this, they ran on the U.S. leadership Summit system, commanding 4,650 nodes across 24 hours and exhibiting “unprecedented scaling and unmatched real-world performance of SNAP [molecular dynamics].” Representing a simulated nanosecond of physical time, the simulations achieved better than 97 percent parallel efficiency and peak computing power of 50 petaflops for a 20-billion atom molecular dynamics simulation across Summit’s nearly 28,000 GPUs. The researchers claim the record set of 6.2 million atom steps per node-second is 22.9 times greater than the previous record-setting work. To learn more, read the paper here.


Congratulations to all the winners and nominees!

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