From ALCF: “Fields and flows fire up cosmic accelerators”

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Cray Aurora supercomputer at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility

MIRA IBM Blue Gene Q supercomputer at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility
MIRA IBM Blue Gene Q supercomputer at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility


May 15, 2017
John Spizzirri

A visualization from a 3D OSIRIS simulation of particle acceleration in laser-driven magnetic reconnection. The trajectories of the most energetic electrons (colored by energy) are shown as the two magnetized plasmas (grey isosurfaces) interact. Electrons are accelerated by the reconnection electric field at the interaction region and escape in a fan-like profile. Credit: Frederico Fiuza, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory/OSIRIS

Every day, with little notice, the Earth is bombarded by energetic particles that shower its inhabitants in an invisible dusting of radiation, observed only by the random detector, or astronomer, or physicist duly noting their passing. These particles constitute, perhaps, the galactic residue of some far distant supernova, or the tangible echo of a pulsar. These are cosmic rays.

But how are these particles produced? And where do they find the energy to travel unchecked by immense distances and interstellar obstacles?

These are the questions Frederico Fiuza has pursued over the last three years, through ongoing projects at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility.

High-power lasers, such as those available at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics or at the National Ignition Facility in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, can produce peak powers in excess of 1,000 trillion watts. At these high-powers, lasers can instantly ionize matter and create energetic plasma flows for the desired studies of particle acceleration.

U Rochester Omega Laser


A physicist at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California, Fiuza and his team are conducting thorough investigations of plasma physics to discern the fundamental processes that accelerate particles. The answers could provide an understanding of how cosmic rays gain their energy and how similar acceleration mechanisms could be probed in the laboratory and used for practical applications.

Because the range in scales is so dramatic, they turned to the petascale power of Mira, the ALCF’s Blue Gene/Q supercomputer, to run the first-ever 3D simulations of these laboratory scenarios.

To drive the simulation, they used OSIRIS, a state-of-the-art, particle-in-cell code for modeling plasmas, developed by UCLA and the Instituto Superior Técnico, in Portugal, where Fiuza earned his PhD.

In the first phase of this project, Fiuza’s team showed that a plasma instability, the Weibel instability, is able to convert a large fraction of the energy in plasma flows to magnetic fields. They have shown a strong agreement in a one-to-one comparison of the experimental data with the 3D simulation data, which was published in Nature Physics, in 2015. This helped them understand how the strong fields required for particle acceleration can be generated in astrophysical environments.

The team’s results, which were published in Physical Review Letters, in 2016, show that laser-driven reconnection leads to strong particle acceleration. As two expanding plasma plumes interact with each other, they form a thin current sheet, or reconnection layer, which becomes unstable, breaking into smaller sheets. During this process, the magnetic field is annihilated and a strong electric field is excited in the reconnection region, efficiently accelerating electrons as they enter the region.

This research is supported by the DOE Office of Science. Computing time at the ALCF was allocated through the Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program.

See the full article here .

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About ALCF

The Argonne Leadership Computing Facility’s (ALCF) mission is to accelerate major scientific discoveries and engineering breakthroughs for humanity by designing and providing world-leading computing facilities in partnership with the computational science community.

We help researchers solve some of the world’s largest and most complex problems with our unique combination of supercomputing resources and expertise.

ALCF projects cover many scientific disciplines, ranging from chemistry and biology to physics and materials science. Examples include modeling and simulation efforts to:

Discover new materials for batteries
Predict the impacts of global climate change
Unravel the origins of the universe
Develop renewable energy technologies

Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science

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