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Supercomputer speeds China's solar energy research

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Chinese researchers have run the world's highest performing molecular simulation to examine improved techniques for the production and use of crystalline silicon, a key material used in solar panels and the semiconductor industry. Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Process Engineering (CAS-IPE) used Tianhe-1A, the world's fastest supercomputer, to perform a simulation on Nvidia Tesla GPUs that was five times the performance and more than twice the size of the previous highest-performing molecular simulation. The simulation modelled the behaviour of 110 billion atoms at 1.87 Pflops of performance. The previous record for a simulation of this kind was 49 billion atoms at 369 Tflops of performance.

‘Computer simulations are critical to the study of new materials and production methods as it can reveal far more details than experimental measurements, at much less cost,’ said Dr Wenlai Huang, research associate at CAS-IPE. ‘The levels of performance we achieved by using all 7,168 Nvidia GPUs in the Tianhe-1A supercomputer enabled us to run simulations that come closer than ever to reproducing the behaviour of the material in different aspects and its true bulk properties under different conditions, which are more meaningful for engineering and industrial purposes.’

Tianhe-1A, located at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin, China, was named the world's fastest supercomputer in November 2010 by the Top 500 organisation. It was the first time the title was given to a Chinese supercomputing centre. In addition to the CAS-IPE led research, it is being used to explore the areas of oil exploration, drug discovery and weather modelling.