Physics-based modelling – or physical modelling – for virtual prototyping of engineering products has brought about dramatic savings in time and cost over the past 20 years. Furthermore, the increasing use of controllers in engineering products has driven the use of physical modelling tools for accurate plant characterisation, which is usually the first and often the most timeconsuming stage in control system development.
‘Listen…there’s a storm!’ Although it was raining lightly as I entered the museum at CERN with my host and guide, Dr Bernd Panzer-Steindel, computing fabric manager in the IT department, that’s not what he was referring to. We had just walked by a cosmic-ray detector that gives an audio and video indication of incident radiation, and for a brief moment it sounded like a popcorn popper. Panzer-Steindel’s ear, and in fact his entire profession, is oriented towards helping others learn more about the basic particles of our universe.
There is a smattering of supercomputing sites across central and eastern Europe, with Switzerland housing the largest number of HPC sites to appear on the latest Top500 list in that region, and Poland housing the most powerful supercomputer in the area.
And while most of these supercomputing sites may seem to be small fry compared to the massive projects going on in nearby countries, such as Germany and the UK, the Central and Eastern European countries are quietly using their HPC power for a wide range of scientific research.
Turbines, pumps, compressors and other rotating machinery have been widely used for many decades, and they are reaching impressive efficiencies. Even so, we don’t know every detail about them and there is still room for improvement. Advances in software for the analysis of flow, heat and mechanical aspects is letting us gain deeper knowledge about the internal operations of such systems and their components.
In 1928, while studying influenza at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London, Alexander Fleming noticed a ring of inhibited bacterial growth surrounding a mould growing on a Staphylococcus plate culture. He attributed the inhibition to antibacterial substances produced by the mould, which he discovered to be Penicillium and the active substance he named penicillin. It wasn’t until 1939, however, that Howard Florey and Ernst Chain developed penicillin for use as a drug, for which all three won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945.
WALL-E, the latest animated feature from Pixar (if you have been pupating in a cave for the past few months, just pronounce it ‘Wally’), is about a lot of things, but not about robots. This perceptive observation by a 12 year old next to me in the Odeon could equally be applied to robotics: a field that is mostly about carrying out other tasks, or gathering other knowledge, or improving other efficiencies, as a byproduct of which, robots are produced.
To some people visualisation is just making some pretty pictures to go with a grant proposal or press release about your research. In some quarters it does have more to do with art than science but, hey, we need to get the public interested in science somehow.