‘Supercomputer’ to probe origins of the universe

Dr David Bacon, left, and Gary Burton with the University of Portsmouth supercomputer.
Dr David Bacon, left, and Gary Burton with the University of Portsmouth supercomputer.
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IT sounds like something out of science fiction but scientists hope a computer at the University of Portsmouth will answer questions about how the universe began.

The Sciama computer – which has the power of 1,000 PCs – is able to collect and process information from satellites across the world in record time.

Capable of doing a billion calculations a second, it’s been likened to Deep Thought – the fictional computer designed to find the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’ in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books.

Cosmologists believe it could help them come closer to understanding the origin of the galaxies and of gravity itself.

Gary Burton, from the University’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG), who will manage the supercomputer, said: ‘We’re all very excited about this project and hope it will give us some answers to many unsolved questions about the universe.

‘Sciama is a cluster of computers linked together to make a far more powerful machine.

‘It can do a billion calculations each second and follow the movement of billions of particles in a simulation.

‘Using it will allow us to explore the whole of cosmic history and analyse data that contains fundamental clues about the origins of the universe.’

Sciama will be used to analyse vast regions of the universe, investigate the properties of hundreds of millions of galaxies and solve complex problems like what is dark matter. The team will dedicate themselves to this project for three years.

Researcher Lado Samushia added: ‘What would take me 20 days to calculate I can now do in four hours.

‘This is a huge timesaver, which will make a drastic difference to my research.’

The supercomputer was named after Dennis Sciama, a leading figure in the development of astrophysics and cosmology.

Dr David Bacon, senior research fellow, said: ‘We’re absolutely thrilled to have Sciama located here in Portsmouth. The ICG is in a great position to use this supercomputer to make real breakthroughs in understanding the universe – both by analysing the very latest astronomical observations, and by calculating the consequences of mind-boggling new theories.’