How supercomputers help to understand the world around us

(ORDO NEWS) — The era of digital transformation opens up new opportunities in the study of natural processes and the development of new technologies.

In addition, and in some cases even in place of a natural experiment, a computational experiment comes. In this concept, we are not dealing with a real object, but with its projection into virtual space – with a digital twin that inherits all the basic properties and qualities of its “material” progenitor.

“Under the hood” of any digital twin are huge arrays of numbers, their processing and associated calculations, which are effectively handled by high-performance computing devices – supercomputers.

The creation and research of digital twins of advanced technology and complex engineering and physical processes is carried out at the Center for Supercomputer Modeling of the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI.

O wonderful world

The world around us is truly diverse, and happy is the one who knows how to contemplate and realize it. Even the most familiar picture that we can observe every day is replete with an abundance of physical processes that fill space and flow into each other.

Light, which is both an electromagnetic wave and a stream of elementary particles – photons, stimulates the retina of our eye, and the resulting electrical impulses, reaching the brain, excite its neural connections. So we are able to see.

Sound, which is the vibrations of atoms and molecules in the air, leads to mechanical vibrations of the tympanic membrane in our ear, which are then transformed into electrical signals and excite the auditory centers of the brain. Therefore, we are able to hear.

In the car engine that we control, combustion processes take place, while the released energy is partially converted into the mechanical movement of machine parts, partially into thermal energy, which is nothing more than a chaotic wandering of molecules and atoms colliding with each other.

An airplane flying in the sky “cuts” the airspace with its wings, and due to the high speed of air pressure on the lower part of the wing, it is enough to overcome the gravity of the planet. Examples are endless.

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Mathematics is the language of nature

Surprisingly, all this variety of manifestations of the surrounding world lends itself to description: observing nature, we generalize patterns in the form of well-known physical laws.

But it is not enough to describe these laws qualitatively: they need to be formulated in a universal way, encoded, and here the queen of all sciences, mathematics, comes to the rescue. As Galileo Galilei said: “Mathematics is the language in which the book of nature is written .”

It is mathematics that makes it possible to objectively describe the processes that occur in the world around us. The physical laws that we have been studying so hard since school are nothing more than mathematical equations that reflect the balance of numerical values ​​that describe the parameters of the process under study.

Everything that exists is a number

This idea, first voiced by Pythagoras and gaining relevance with renewed vigor in the modern “quantitative” world, underlies the concept of digital twins, mathematical modeling and computational experiment.

Behind the laws describing the surrounding world are numbers, and the more complex the phenomenon, the “heavier” the set of numbers that display it. These numerical arrays are dynamic in nature and transform over time, thereby describing how the process or technology under study evolves.


Supercomputers are called upon to cope with the processing of such a large amount of digital data, which is also constantly changing, as well as to make calculations with them according to pre-programmed algorithms.

These high-performance computing devices are powerful analogues of the personal computers and laptops we are used to. They consist of a huge number of processors connected to each other in a single computing network and are capable of performing trillions of operations per second.

The most powerful supercomputer in the world today, the Japanese supercomputer Fugaku, has at its disposal about 7.5 million processor cores and a computing power of about five hundred quintillion operations per second.

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Digital twins in industry

The implementation of the concept of digital twins, in contrast to the classical full-scale approach, significantly saves costs in the development and commissioning of new equipment.

For a full-scale experiment, you need to go through many costly stages – this is the choice of a site for its implementation, and the purchase of expensive equipment, and the implementation of installation work, and the maintenance of a team of engineers, and numerous series of launches.

If at the same time there is a need to modernize the previously assembled installation, then the entire cycle will have to be repeated. The issue of ensuring the safety of the environment is also important.

Mathematical modeling implies a more beautiful and concise solution – to create a digital twin of the object under study and, with the help of supercomputers, conduct a series of computational experiments on it.

As a result, on the screen of your monitor, you can literally see how the phenomenon or the created technique will behave in reality – in the real world. Due to its economic and financial benefits, this approach is in demand in almost all sectors of the high-tech industry.

Digital twins are used in the rocket and space industry, in the aviation industry, in energy and mechanical engineering, in the development of laser and plasma technologies.

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Computational experiment in the development of a new generation of plasma technology

Supercomputer modeling is successfully used in the creation of advanced technology, which uses matter in a special extreme state (it is also called the fourth state of matter) – in the state of plasma.

Plasma has a huge temperature (up to tens of millions of degrees) and is very rare in terrestrial conditions, but in space almost all material matter is in the plasma state.

In plasma, atoms, in contrast to a solid, liquid and gas, no longer represent an integral neutrally charged structure, but are divided into components free from each other – positively charged nuclei (ions) and negatively charged electrons.

Due to this, the substance acquires two important properties: it conducts electric current and is influenced by magnetic fields. These properties

One of these areas is plasma engines. In these devices, the substance in the plasma state, flowing from the engine, can be accelerated up to hundreds of kilometers per second and, in accordance with the law of conservation of momentum, transfer to the space and aircraft the energy of motion, which is many times greater than that of conventional jet engines running on chemical fuel.

Devices equipped with plasma engines are designed to solve the most ambitious space missions, and the development of our solar system and even the galaxy no longer seems such a fantastic prospect.

Another direction of using plasma in solving global challenges facing humanity is the energy of a new generation, the creation of environmentally friendly and safe energy sources. We are talking about controlled thermonuclear fusion, in which the light nuclei of the periodic table merge into heavier ones with the release of energy.

Such reactions take place only at very high temperatures, at which the substance is in the plasma state. In thermonuclear reactors, plasma heated to millions of degrees is kept from contact with structural elements precisely by a magnetic field – in magnetic traps.

At the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI, at the LaPlaz Institute, experimental and even industrial prototypes of plasma engines and magnetic traps for thermonuclear reactors are being actively developed.

And in the creation and study of these devices, their digital twins are used, which deal with approximate models, but allow using calculations to draw predictive conclusions about the behavior of the processes in them and the parameters that a real installation will have.

At the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI, such calculations are carried out at the Center for Engineering Physical Calculations and Supercomputer Modeling in cooperation with the Institute of Applied Mathematics. M.V. Keldysh RAS.

Digital landing and engineers of the future

The relevance of the profession of a digital engineer, who is able to create and explore digital twins, conduct computational experiments and draw predictive conclusions about a phenomenon or technology based on their results, is higher than ever.

A specialist in the field of supercomputer modeling has knowledge in the field of physics, mathematics, programming and IT, and every high-tech and science-intensive enterprise in the real sector of the economy is extremely interested in such personnel.

At NRNU MEPhI, this topic is actively developed at the Center for Supercomputer Simulation, and the training of highly qualified specialists is carried out at the Department 97 of Supercomputer Simulation of Engineering and Physical Processes of the LaPlaz Institute.


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