• Question: why is it important to use supercomputers to simulate nuclear reactors, wind farms and dinosaur locomotion?

    Asked by Baby Blue to Lee on 24 Jun 2015.
    • Photo: Lee Margetts

      Lee Margetts answered on 24 Jun 2015:

      Every so often, the owner of a car will take it to the garage for a service. The mechanic will check various things and tell you what needs replacing, making sure that the car is safe to drive. There’s a similar need to regularly check that nuclear reactors are running safely. However, compared with cars, they are not very easy to inspect, so computer simulation is used to predict the current state of all the different components. Some reactors in the UK have been running for 50-60 years and the physics of how the components age is quite complicated. So lots of computer power, using a big supercomputer, can give an accurate prediction of the safety of the reactor.

      The blades on wind turbines reach 150m in diameter. They are huge! Hundreds of them operate together in a wind farm. Engineers want to know the best way of arranging the wind turbines in a wind farm to extract the most energy from the wind. They also want to be able to predict when components of the wind turbines might need servicing. Again, lots of computer power, using a big supercomputer, can help give the engineer accurate predictions.

      Simulating how dinosaurs used to walk, using engineering principles on a supercomputer, is just for fun. There’s serious science, but if you’ve read any reviews of the recent Jurassic Park movie, Hollywood doesn’t care about science – sad isn’t it?