Matt Caplan, doctoral student at Indiana University in the Department of Physics – Nuclear Theory Center, has been conducting exciting new research using the Big Red II supercomputer. The focus of Matt’s research is to simulate neutron star crusts – just like the Earth’s crust, neutron stars have a solid crust surrounding a liquid core (despite being over a trillion times denser than matter on Earth). The matter found within the crusts of neutron starts is called nuclear pasta.
Nuclear pasta: A) Gnocchi, B) Spaghetti, C) Waffles, D) Lasagna, E) Defects, F) Antispaghetti, G) Antignocchi
According to Matt, “The universe has done a physics experiment that we can't reproduce on earth. It will probably never be possible to produce nuclear matter, in a state like it is found on a neutron star, in a lab on earth. This makes astronomical observations of neutron stars a really unique data point for doing nuclear physics. If we can understand observations of neutron stars, maybe we can have a better understanding of nuclear physics on earth. But to do that, we need to be able to interpret those observations - the crust is the part of the star we see, and so that part must be modeled if we want to know what's happening beneath it.”
One of the toughest challenges that Matt and other physicists have is computing power. “We need large computing resources for these simulations, which means we have a long turn around time, and exploring a dead end can be hugely wasteful,” he said. However, having access to supercomputers and other advanced cyberinfrastructure is essential for his research. He added, “GPU computing on Big Red II is a huge boon to our research productivity. We certainly wouldn't be able to do what we do on a CPU machine. The availability of GPUs gives it a huge performance advantage compared to other typical university owned machines.”