UK Government Announces £20M DiRAC HPC Funding Boost for Urgent Scientific Research

January 6, 2021

Jan. 6, 2021 — The UK government has announced a £20m funding boost to upgrade the capabilities of the DiRAC High Performance Computing facility.

The upgrade will enhance the UK’s scientific leadership and productivity, driving ground-breaking discoveries in scientific research, with opportunities spread across the UK. It will support the training of the next generation of UK researchers and attract the world’s top computational researchers to the UK.

It will also support nationwide innovation with industry to develop solutions for exascale computing and Artificial Intelligence research with broad applications in personalised healthcare, clean energy, government decision-making and solar weather forecasting.

The new systems will be between three times and five time more powerful than the existing DiRAC machines. This will provide crucial computing capacity that can be used to address immediate/emerging issues, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

DiRAC-3

The DiRAC High Performance Computing facility was established in 2009, with funding from the Government, The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and individual universities.

The facility provides high performance computing systems optimised for the specialist needs of scientists working at the cutting edge of theoretical astrophysics, particle physics, cosmology and nuclear physics. The DiRAC research community also exploits and interprets observational and experimental data generated by astronomy and particle physics facilities such as the Large Hadron Collider and the LIGO experiment.

DiRAC is a distributed facility, with computing resources hosted by the Universities of Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh and Leicester. This is overseen by the Project Office at University College London. These powerful computing facilities allow the UK science community to pursue cutting-edge research on a broad range of topics, including simulations of the entire evolution of the universe, from the Big Bang to the present, and models of the fundamental structure of matter.

DiRAC has now been awarded £20million from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), through the government’s World Class Labs funding scheme, to deploy DiRAC-3 – a major upgrade in the computing power at all four DiRAC sites. Crucially, they will also be up to ten times energy efficient than previous generations, an important step towards delivering sustainable computing resources for the UK.

A welcome announcement

Describing the announcement as “very welcome good news for UK science”, the DiRAC Director, Professor Mark Wilkinson from the University of Leicester, explained the importance of this investment for the UK:

“Today, high performance computing (HPC) underpins discoveries in almost all areas of science and innovation. Numerous studies have demonstrated the significant economic benefits of investment in high performance computing and confirmed that “to out-compute is to out-compete.”

The new computers will be deployed over the coming months, with first scientific results expected to be presented in September at DiRAC Day 2021, the annual community event. More information about the DiRAC facility can be found at: http://dirac.ac.uk/

The new computers will enable DiRAC researchers to build computer models of “unprecedented precision”, including:

  • Astronomy: Gravitational Wave simulations of neutron star mergers to enable physical interpretation of future detections by the LIGO facility.
  • Cosmology: Galaxy formation simulations of sufficiently high resolution to study the formation of the first stars, galaxies and black holes in the early Universe.
  • Solar Physics: the first simulation of an entire stellar convection zone.
  • Particle physics: Lattice Quantum ChromoDynamics calculations to understand the fundamental constituents of the Universe, allowing precise determination of fundamental physical constants and the discovery of new physics, beyond the Standard Model, in future experiments.

About the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is part of UK Research and Innovation – the UK body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. For more information visit UK Research and Innovation.

STFC funds and supports research in particle and nuclear physics, astronomy, gravitational research and astrophysics, and space science and also operates a network of five national laboratories, including the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the Daresbury Laboratory, as well as supporting UK research at a number of international research facilities including CERN, FERMILAB, the ESO telescopes in Chile and many more. Visit https://stfc.ukri.org/

DiRAC High Performance Computing facility

DiRAC stands for distributed research using advanced computing. The DiRAC High Performance Computing facility provides cutting-edge supercomputing resources for UK researchers working on world-leading scientific calculations across a wide range of areas including particle physics, astrophysics, cosmology and nuclear physics. It comprises supercomputers at Cambridge, Durham, Leicester and Edinburgh, each designed to support specific types of calculations. DiRAC also provides access to a team of expert research software engineers to help researchers make the most efficient use of the available computing resources. https://dirac.ac.uk/


Source: UKRI Science and Technology Facilities Council

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