New supercomputers boost imaging grunt

Summary:IBM today announced that two of its supercomputers have been purchased by the Australian Synchrotron and Monash University, in collaboration with CSIRO and the Victorian Government to power an "almost" real-time, atomic-level imaging and visualisation facility set to launch in March.

IBM today announced that two of its supercomputers have been purchased by the Australian Synchrotron and Monash University, in collaboration with CSIRO and the Victorian Government to power an "almost" real-time, atomic-level imaging and visualisation facility set to launch in March.

The computers, linked to one another via fibre-optic cable, will enable scientists to examine objects in atomic-level detail, create 3D images for study and process large amounts of data collected from the synchrotron.

feather rendered in 3D

An example of a feather found in amber turned into a 3D image. (Credit: Paul Tafforeau/ESRF)

Together dubbed the Multi-modal Australian ScienceS Imaging and Visualisation Environment (MASSIVE) facility, they will aid a wide range of fields spanning from biology to geology. In addition, they will allow scientists to analyse materials and coatings on a structural level.

The project is estimated to cost around $8 to $9 million over the next three years, with the GPU-powered systems to be co-located at Monash University and Australian Synchrotron. The Australian Synchrotron is a scientific research facility that provides researchers with access to cutting-edge x-ray and infrared techniques that have a wide range of applications in fundamental science and industrial research.

The Victorian Government will be providing $1.45 million in funding for the project. The National Computing Initiative will contribute $1.2 million in investment and funds while the remaining $4.8 million in costs will be split among the project partners Monash University, Australian Synchrotron, CSIRO and the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing (VPAC). While the hardware is supplied by IBM, the installation, servicing and maintenance will be done by VPAC.

3D prehistoric tooth

An imaging of a tooth of a prehistoric beast, 12mm in size and 20 microns in resolution.
From the Imaging and Medical beamline of the Australian Synchrotron. (Credit: Australian Synchrotron)

The director of the Australian Synchrotron, Dr Andrew Peele, told ZDNet Australia that while the facilities are primed towards medical science, later this year the organisations involved in MASSIVE will invite proposals and applications from scientists and researchers from around Australia to use them for other fields.

According to Peele, the combination of atomic-level detail and semi-real-time analysis makes MASSIVE a significant step forward for scientific research. For instance, using imaging and visualisation, it can study the lungs of baby rabbits, mice and rats to understand how human lungs develop and function in premature babies. It studies the lungs on an elementary level and applies that treatment to babies who do not have fully developed lungs.

"The unique nature of these facilities is the focus on imaging and visualisation," said Monash University's Dr Wojtek Goscinski. This, he said, will help improve the results and productivity of the synchrotron.

It is not surprising then that the systems have a fair bit of power behind them.

"You need something like MASSIVE which does the maths," said Peele, referring to the large and complex algorithms developed by CSIRO, which are needed to process, interpret the raw data and create a 3D image from that data.

"It is anticipated that both of the IBM iDataPlex systems each containing 84 Nvidia GPUs being deployed at Monash University and the Synchrotron will rank on the next Top500 list of worldwide supercomputers (www.top500.org) to be published in June 2011," said IBM Australia's strategic initiatives executive Wayne Goss in a statement released today.

There are already a number of Australian supercomputers on the top 500 list.

Topics: Government, Emerging Tech, Government : AU, IBM

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