UW Professor Advises NASA on Supercomputing Future

June 6, 2014

June 6 — A University of Wyoming professor of mechanical engineering is among authors of a new report that offers guidance to NASA regarding the computational resources it will need to design aircraft and spacecraft in the future.

Dimitri Mavriplis, head of UW’s lab in computational fluid dynamics (CFD), joined researchers from Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications to produce the report for NASA.

Titled “CFD Vision 2030 Study: A Path to Revolutionary Computational Aerosciences,” the report includes recommendations for the nation’s aeronautical research agency to continue advancing aerospace design.

“Sustaining future advances in CFD and related multidisciplinary analysis and optimization tools will be critical for achieving NASA’s aeronautics goals, invigorating NASA’s space program, keeping industry competitive, and advancing aerospace engineering in general,” the authors wrote. “The improvement of a simulation-based engineering design process in which CFD plays a critical role is a multifaceted problem that requires a comprehensive long-term, goal-oriented research strategy.”

CFD is a branch of fluid mechanics that uses computer-based numerical methods and algorithms to analyze and solve fluid flow and aerodynamic problems. Use of computer simulations to test aircraft designs, instead of costly and time-consuming wind-tunnel tests, has revolutionized aeronautical engineering.

Mavriplis, who will mark a decade at UW this year, is one of the nation’s leaders in the field. Before coming to UW, he worked for 16 years at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

He is one of UW’s major users of the National Center for Atmospheric Research Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) in Cheyenne, which contains one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. It can operate at 1.5 petaflops (equal to 1.5 quadrillion computer operations per second).

The report for NASA notes that further technological advances are expected, with a move to exascale computing — machines 1,000 times faster than today’s fastest supercomputers. That will require a rethinking of current CFD algorithms and software, along with more power-efficient computing hardware.

The report also says that NASA’s investment in basic research and technology development for simulation-based analysis and design has declined significantly in the last decade “and must be reinvigorated if substantial advances in simulation capability are to be achieved.”

Mavriplis’ personal research goals include achieving more accurate aerodynamic simulations by resolving increasingly fine details of turbulence; being able to run simulations for more realistic and complex aerospace vehicle configurations; and being able to run such simulations faster and eventually enabling engineers to perform such computations on desktop computers or tablets.

Source: University of Wyoming

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