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UQ buys supercomputer for computational research

The University of Queensland's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology will have a supercomputer by the end of November that will support research in computational modelling of physical, pharmaceutical, and biological systems.

The University of Queensland's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) is investing in a supercomputer that will help support research from the development of advanced materials for clean fuel, through to the engineering of stem cell therapies for Parkinson's disease.

The AU$275,000 parallel computer cluster, which will be installed on-campus by the end of November, will replace AIBN's existing cluster of style links that have been in use since 2008.

According to AIBN researcher Marlies Hankel the existing cluster is "basically failing" because the hardware is so old.

"All of our work is computational would have access to the national facilities, and we have access to the UQ facilities, which is also three years old now and currently in the process of being replaced too.

"We just needed something in-house that would allow us to expand in our calculations," she said.

The supercomputer will be used by UQ's Faculty of Science and Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology for research in computational modelling of physical, pharmaceutical, and biological systems, and will host the AIBN's stem cell collaboration platform, Stemformatics.org.

The computer cluster will also aid in visualising genes for stem cell research, potentially leading to the development of therapies for a range of medical problems such as Parkinson's disease and heart attacks.

Additionally, Hankel said she would use the computer to model materials in lithium ion batteries to understand the mechanisms of charging and recharging batteries used in mobile phones and laptops.

Centre for Theoretical and Computational Molecular Science director professor Debra Bernhardt said the new computer would focus on computational speed.

"The facility will be more efficient, providing more processing power and working over a fast network, which will enable researchers to work with more realistic models," she said.

"The computer has a new type of co-processor, providing faster and more energy efficient performance.

"Another advantage is that it works with traditional programming languages, making it easily accessible to researchers. The computational power is well beyond the current capabilities of a traditional PC."

Supercomputers are currently being used by research groups across the nation, including the Bureau of Meteorology , which has gone to market for one to replace its existing Oracle supercomputer. The supercomputer will run observational data collected from the global weather system.

Meanwhile, Perth-based Pawsey supercomputing centre was recently built for research into geoscience, minerals, and resources, as well for supporting applications in areas of nanotechnology, radio astronomy, high-energy physics, architecture and construction, multimedia, and urban planning.