China Bags Second Gordon Bell Prize

Using the fastest supercomputer in the world, a team from China has won the 2017 edition of the highly coveted ACM Gordon Bell Prize.

AsianScientist (Nov. 17, 2017) – ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, has named a 12-member Chinese team the recipients of the 2017 ACM Gordon Bell Prize for their research project on earthquake simulation. The team developed software that was able to efficiently process 18.9 petaFLOPS (or 18.9 quadrillion floating point operations per second) of data and create 3D visualizations relating to a devastating earthquake that occurred in Tangshan, China in 1976.

The ACM Gordon Bell Prize tracks the progress of parallel computing and rewards innovation in applying high performance computing to challenges in science, engineering, and large-scale data analytics. It is named after supercomputing pioneer Gordon Bell. The award was presented by ACM President Vicki Hanson and Subhash Saini, Chair of the 2017 Gordon Bell Prize Award Committee, during the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis (SC17) in Denver, Colorado.

Although earthquake prediction and simulation is an inexact and emerging area of research, scientists hope that the use of supercomputers, which can process vast sets of data to address the myriad of variables at play in geologic events, may lead to better prediction and preparedness. For example, the Chinese team’s 3D simulations may inform engineering standards for buildings being developed in zones known to have seismic activity. In this vein, many have advocated for a significant increase in the amount of sensors to regularly monitor seismic activity.

The Tangshan earthquake, which occurred on July 28, 1976 in Tangshan, Hebei, China, is regarded as the most devastating earthquake of the 20th century, and resulted in approximately 242,000-700,000 deaths. In developing their simulations for the Tangshan earthquake, the team included input data from the entire spatial area of the quake, a surface diameter of 320 km by 312 km, as well as 40 km deep below the earth’s surface.

The input data also included a frequency range of the earthquake of up to 18 Hertz (Hz). In the study of earthquakes, a Hertz is a unit of measurement that measures the number of times an event happens in the period of a second. For example, it might correspond to the number of times the ground shakes back and forth during an earthquake. Previous simulations of violent earthquakes have employed a lower frequency than 18 Hz, since enormous memory and time consumption are needed for high frequency simulations.

Of its new innovations, the Chinese team adds that its on-the-fly compression scheme may be effectively applied to other challenges in exascale computing.

In their paper, the authors state: “The even more exciting innovation is the on-the-fly compression scheme, which, at the cost of an acceptable level of accuracy lost, scales our simulation performance and capabilities even beyond the machine’s physical constraints. While the current compression scheme is largely customized for our specific application and the Sunway architecture, we believe the idea has great potential to be applied to other applications and other architectures.”

Winning team members include Professor Fu Haohuan, He Conghui, Chen Bingwei, Xue Wei and Yang Guangwen of Tsinghua University and National Supercomputing Center, Wuxi; Yin Zekun, Zhang Tingjian and Liu Weiguo from Shandong University; Zhang Zhenguo and Chen Xiaofei of the Southern University of Science and Technology; Zhang Wenqiang from the University of Science and Technology of China; and Yin Wanwang of the National Research Center of Parallel Computer Engineering and Technology.

The winning simulation was performed on Sunway TaihuLight, currently the world’s most powerful supercomputer. Sunway Taihulight was also used for the project that won the 2016 Gordon Bell Prize, which marked the first time that a team from China won the coveted award.

Innovations from advanced scientific computing have a far-reaching impact in many areas of science and society—from understanding the evolution of the universe and other challenges in astronomy, to complex geological phenomena, to nuclear energy research, to economic forecasting, to developing new pharmaceuticals.


Source: Association for Computing Machinery; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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