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A day in the life of an Irish particle physicist

Speed read
  • Quarks and gluons are foundational components of matter
  • Particle studies require numerical simulations
  • PRACE’s HPC resources support simulations and further research goals 

Uncovering the mysteries of the cosmos is just another day in the office for Sinéad Ryan.

Ryan, professor of theoretical high energy physics at Trinity College Dublin, specializes in quantum chromodynamics (QCD). The field examines how quarks and gluons form hadrons, the fundamental starting point of our universe.

<strong>Sinéad Ryan</strong> is a quantum chromodynamics expert in Dublin. She relies on PRACE HPC resources to calculate the mass of quarks, gluons, and hadrons — and uncover the secrets of the universe.

“Quarks and gluons are the building blocks for everything in the world around us and for our universe,” says Ryan. “The question is, how do these form the matter that we see around us?”

To answer this, Ryan performs numerical simulations on high-performance computing (HPC) resources managed by the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe’s (PRACE).

“I think PRACE is crucial for our field,” says Ryan, “and I’m sure other people would tell you the same thing.”

When quarks are pulled apart, energy grows between them, similar to the tension in a rubber band when it is stretched. Eventually, enough energy is produced to create more quarks which then form hadrons in accordance with Einstein's equation E=MC2.

PRACE’s access to these facilities means that good science gets done. ~Sinéad Ryan

The problem, according to Ryan, comes in solving the equations of QCD. PRACE’s HPC resources make Ryan’s work possible because they enable her to run simulations on a larger scale than simple pen and paper would allow.

“It’s a huge dimensional integral to solve, and we’re talking about solving a million times a million matrices that we must invert,” says Ryan.

“This is where HPC comes in. If you want to make predictions in the theory, you need to be able to do the simulations numerically.”

In Ireland, the Irish Centre for High-End Computing is one resource Ryan has tapped in her research, but PRACE enables her and her collaborators to access resources not just locally but across the world.

“This sort of work tends to be very collaborative and international,” says Ryan. “We can apply through PRACE for time on HPC machines throughout Europe. In my field, any machine anywhere is fair game.”

PRACE: Europe's HPC gateway  

ICHEC researchers can access six of the world's top 50 supercomputers.

  • CURIE — hosted by TGCC in Bruyères-le-Châtel, France.
  • FERMI — an IBM BlueGene/Q hosted by CINECA in Italy.
  • HERMIT — a Cray XE6 machine in Stuttgart, Germany.
  • JUQUEEN — an IBM BlueGene/Q in Jülich, Germany.
  • Mare Nostrum — an IBM System X iDataplex machine in a deconsecrated chapel in Barcelona, Spain.
  • SuperMUC — an IBM System X iDataplex machine in Garching near Munich, Germany.

Besides providing resources, PRACE also determines whether HPC resources are suitable for the kinds of research questions scientists are interested in answering.

“PRACE’s access to these facilities means that good science gets done on these machines,” says Ryan. “These are computations that are based around fundamental questions posed by people who have a track record for doing good science and asking the right questions. I think that’s crucial.”

Without PRACE’s support, Ryan’s work examining how quarks and gluons form matter and the beginnings of our universe would be greatly diminished, leaving us one step further behind uncovering the building blocks of the universe. 

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