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Super-computer reaches for the stars

Posted on 5 February 2002

Scientists at the University of York have been awarded a £234,000 grant for a powerful computer, called Beowulf, that will help them model large and fundamental happenings in the universe - from the evolution of the stars to the way in which DNA works.

They will be using the grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to construct a powerful new computer system and model a wide range of research subjects, such as the way in which DNA binds with other biologically important molecules. This insight, which will increase scientists' knowledge of control processes within the living cell, has implications for drug design and cancer therapy.

Another project will simulate experiments that aim to reproduce aspects of the evolution of the stars in the laboratory using high-energy lasers. This will allow the scientists to study the mechanisms associated with stellar winds and supernova remnants.

A third project will use quantum mechanics to predict the motion of electric current through ultra-thin 'nanowires' - one hundred-thousandth of the thickness of a human hair - which transport electricity between tiny reservoirs in a possible model for electronic devices of the future.

The new computer system consists of 33 high-specification computers linked by an ultra-fast network, which allows them to work jointly on the same calculation. This will speed up dramatically calculations, allowing research into unexplored fields.

Professor Rex Godby, one of the scientists leading the research, said: "Modern computer technology allows us to perform experiments on complex phenomena by simulating the process inside the computer. The incredible pace of technological change means that our department can benefit from a facility that - just a few years ago - would have been unthinkable even at a national level, and which is shared by hundreds of researchers."

Professor Geoff Pert, Head of the Department, added: "Computational and theoretical physics research has always been a major part of our research programme. I am very proud that we can introduce such a substantial upgrade to our computing facility to enhance our research."

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David Garner
Senior Press Officer

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