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Simulating the Unseen

NSF Award:

Louisiana's Research Infrastructure Improvement Strategy  (Louisiana Board of Regents)

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Black holes collide in space all the time but nobody sees them.

An award-winning, interactive computer simulation of such a collision and the gravitational waves the event would generate was created by a team of 13 Louisiana State University (LSU) researchers and students.

These techniques were designed to allow modeling and simulation of a range of scientific phenomena that could not be studied by direct observation.

Led by faculty at the LSU Center for Computation and Technology (CCT), the presentation and demonstration won first prize at the SCALE 2009 challenge at CCGrid09, a premier conference for cluster and grid computing held in Shanghai, China.

According to Dr. Gabrielle Allen, CCT professor and co-coordinator of the cyberinfrastructure-building component of the Louisiana NSF EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement project, studying black hole phenomena requires a complex system of mathematical equations to describe effects that span a wide range of length and time scales.

To address this challenge the group used Cactus Software Framework, an open-source environment that allows teams of researchers from different scientific fields in different locations to work together at modeling black hole collisions while solving Einstein's equations. The software platform allowed the researchers to automate a process that is too time-consuming and error-prone for scientists to do by hand.

The demonstration, which involved collaboration with the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI) and the Texas Advanced Computing Center in Austin, showed live, interactive images of the black hole data using a scientific visualization system distributed across LONI.

The project addressed several computing challenges, including:

  • Automatic generation of simulation codes
  • Developing programs and software components to provide fast data transfer across the network, paralleling the rendering process that transforms scientific data into images
  • Building interactive, tangible devices that allow observers to engage directly with scientific data visualized in real-time

Images (1 of )

  • black hole simulation
  • students in front of black hole simulation
An image of the data produced by the Louisiana State University Black Hole simulation showing the gravitational radiation produced during the inspiral.
Gabrielle Allen, LSU
Graduate students of LSU who performed simulations
Gabrielle Allen, LSU

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