Georg Stadler, an associate professor at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and his colleagues have been awarded the 2015 Gordon Bell Prize for their algorithmic innovations enabling realistic simulation of forces inside the Earth.

Courant’s Stadler and Colleagues Win 2015 Bell Prize
Georg Stadler, an associate professor at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and his colleagues have been awarded the 2015 Gordon Bell Prize for their algorithmic innovations enabling realistic simulation of forces inside the Earth. (c)iStock/Brandon Alms

Georg Stadler, an associate professor at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and his colleagues have been awarded the 2015 Gordon Bell Prize for their algorithmic innovations enabling realistic simulation of forces inside the Earth.

The prize, given by the Association for Computing Machinery, recognizes progress made each year in the innovative application of parallel computing to challenges in science, engineering, and large-scale data analytics.

Mantle convection is the fundamental physical process within Earth’s interior responsible for the thermal and geological evolution of the planet, including plate tectonics. Despite being a major control on devastating earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis, scientists lack answers to many of the fundamental principles behind mantle convection.

Simulating such a complex phenomenon requires developing a parallel algorithm that can solve up to 600 billion nonlinear equations and then running it on a computer that can handle a high number of calculations.

To do so, the researchers developed an innovative algorithm that simulated the entire Earth’s mantle convection and the resulting plate motion at unprecedented resolution—a major milestone considering the size, complexity, and nonlinearity of the problem.

Stadler and his co-researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, IBM Research, and the California Institute of Technology then conducted their work on the “Sequoia” IBM BlueGene/Q supercomputer. Located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, it is one of the fastest supercomputers in the world.

“While the conventional view was that efficiently solving highly nonlinear equations on millions of processor cores would be intractable, we demonstrated that with careful redesign of discretization, algorithms, solvers and implementation, it would be possible,” says Stadler.

The Gordon Bell Prize, the most prestigious prize in supercomputing, was presented earlier this month at the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis in Austin, Tex.