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These Scientists Ditched Their Supercomputer, PC Worked Better

01 July 2016

Physicists from the Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics in Russia have discovered that they can use a personal computer for complex calculations of quantum mechanics, which are typically solved with the help of supercomputers.

They even found that the PC did the job much faster.

Researchers Vladimir Pomerantcev and Olga Rubtsova were able to use an ordinary desktop PC with GPU to solve complicated integral equations of quantum mechanics. According to Vladimir Kukulin, the personal computer completed the job in 15 minutes. This would work out to two to three days of supercomputer time.

JUGENE (Jülich Blue Gene), a supercomputer built by IBM for Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany. (Image Credit: Vladimir Kukulin) JUGENE (Jülich Blue Gene), a supercomputer built by IBM for Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany. (Image Credit: Vladimir Kukulin) The equations they worked on were framed back in the 1960s by the Russian mathematician Ludwig Faddeev and describe the scattering of a few quantum particles.

For decades after Faddeev’s work, scientists worked to solve these complicated equations, but they were too complex until the supercomputer was developed.

Instead of the supercomputer, though, team members decided to use one of the new Nvidia GPs designed for use in game consoles on their personal computer. According to Vladimir Kukulin, Head of Laboratory of Nuclear Theory, the processor was not incredibly expensive and would cost about $300 to $500.

“We reached the speed we couldn't even dream of,” said Kukulin. “The program computes 260 million of complex double integrals on a desktop computer within three seconds only. No comparison with supercomputers! My colleague from the University of Bochum in Germany (recently deceased, mournfully), whose lab did the same, carried out the calculations by one of the largest supercomputers in Germany with the famous blue gene architecture that is actually very expensive. And what his group is seeking for two or three days, we do in 15 minutes without spending a dime.”

The team believes that its discovery opens the doors to new ways of analyzing information in the physical field.

The most amazing thing is that the desired quality of graphics processors and a huge amount of software available to them existed for ten years already, but no one used them for such calculations, preferring supercomputers instead. These physicists surprised their Western counterparts with their findings.

“It can also be very useful for solving a large number of computing tasks in plasma physics, electrodynamics, geophysics, medicine and many other areas of science,” said Kukulin.

The group hopes to set up a training course to teach researchers who do not have access to supercomputers how to perform these tasks on PCs.

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