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HKU Physicists Deploy New Advanced Computing System

Image Credits: HKU, Press Release

Today, many ground-breaking discoveries are made in science via numerical computation. This enables scientists to capture the complex, quantum and non-linear physical interactions happening in the universe from galactic to sub-atomic scales.

In this way, scientific computation has become an equally important means as compared with traditional theoretical and experimental research, and high-performance computing (HPC) facilities have also become a necessity for pushing the frontiers of scientific discoveries.

To pursue advances in astronomy, quantum physics, and interdisciplinary science, research teams led by Dr Jane DAI and Dr Zi Yang MENG from the Department of Physics, the University of Hong Kong (HKU), worked together to deploy a new supercomputing system, named ‘Blackbody’ supercomputer. The name stems from their respective research topics of ‘Black hole’ and ‘Quantum many-body physics’ at HKU. The system has been set up in the fall of 2022 and is currently in full operation.

The launch of the new computing system provides enormous computational capabilities for researchers to develop novel numerical codes and perform large-scale simulations, which will be used to tackle some of the most complex problems in the quantum physics and astronomy domains.

Dr Jane Dai’s research on black hole astrophysics

Dr Dai’s team has developed and employed several state-of-the-art general relativistic and Monte Carlo codes to study physics around astrophysical black holes. They focus on understanding how materials orbit around black holes, accrete onto black holes and produce energetic outputs in this process. Their simulations help push forward the theoretical understanding of various black hole astrophysical systems such as tidal disruption events, X-ray binaries and active galactic nuclei, which are some of the most luminous sources in the universe.

Their results are also relevant for the cosmological evolution of black holes and their evolution together with galaxies since the beginning of the universe. In addition to theoretical explorations, the team also collaborates with world-leading astronomers to provide models and interpretations for their observations and help design next-generation telescopes at NASA.

Dr Zi Yang Meng’s research on quantum many-body physics

Dr Meng’s team develops explainable-AI techniques such as the quantum Monte Carlo algorithm and the tensor-network approaches to identify better and more effective models and to solve them to reveal fundamental mechanisms of quantum many-body systems such as non-Fermi-liquid in quantum critical metals, highly entangled quantum matter and topological ordered states and quantum moire 2D materials such magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene.

Their research works provide the most accurate solutions and new understandings for the frontier quantum materials in which millions of electrons are strongly interacting with each other on the quantum scale, they are crucial for the development of next-generation technologies in hope of addressing the new challenges in the the world, such as developing new computing chips breakthrough the limit of Moore’s law and building lossless energy transmission systems using high-temperature superconductors.

With the help of the Blackbody supercomputer, the research teams are well equipped now to solve larger and more complex problems in astronomy and quantum physics.

He noted that this cluster will greatly aid the teams’ research programs in the next couple of years whose progress has been constrained by computational resources and now we finally have the necessary tool to conduct simulations and convert ideas to results. To set up this cluster, a few grants obtained from the HK RGC, NSFC and HKU were put together.

It was noted that modern science research needs to combine experimental, theoretical, and more importantly, computational approaches, the Blackbody computing machines will allow incredibly accurate numerical results with significant predictions, which provides a bridge way to connect traditional theory and experiment studies. Such a new paradigm of research will lead to more profound and impactful discoveries in quantum physics and astronomy.

The Blackbody is funded through the HKU Small Equipment Grant (with Co-Is Dr Man Hoi LEE from the Department of Earth Sciences and Dr Jun YANG from the Department of Chemistry), NSFC Excellent Young Scientist Fund, RGC Area of Excellence, and start-up funding from the Faculty of Science.


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