SAN JOSE -- Using one of the world's most powerful supercomputers as a computational microscope, a team from IBM Corp. and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) here today announced a major breakthrough in simulating the strength of materials, including semiconductors.
Scientists from IBM and LLNL used the so-called ACSI White supercomputer to simulate the creation and deformity of some 1 billion atoms. Last year, IBM built the RISC-based supercomputer for LLNL of Livermore, Calif.
The "billion-atom" calculation will enable scientists to peer deep inside simulated materials to reveal what makes them strong, weak, stiff or flexible, according to IBM and LLNL. Computer visualization techniques also reveal the inner workings of the atoms' response to the stress.
Calculating the strength of new materials is a critical issue in creating smaller devices like microprocessors, to larger structures such as buildings and airplanes, according to the companies. The "computational microscope" can also help in the understanding of fracture, from small crystals to large earthquakes.
"The sudden unexpected fracture of a material can have devastating consequences, such as during an earthquake or the failure of an airplane structure," said Farid F. Abraham, a researcher from IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose.
IBM and LLNL will shortly reveal their findings in two papers. The first paper recounts the 1-billion-atom simulation. The second paper describes a 20-million-atom simulation that shows how brittle-fracture cracks can travel far faster than theory had previously predicted.
These results are expected to be important in helping scientists understand a wide range of fractures--from shallow earthquakes to the sudden failure of fiber-reinforced composite materials, such as those used in airplanes.