Two-day conference highlights accomplishments, future needs of nuclear physics researchers

Nuclear physics experts from around the country gathered July 23–24 in Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of computational nuclear physics. The primary purpose of the meeting was to address recommendations from a recent National Academy of Science Report titled “Nuclear Physics: Exploring the Heart of Matter” that aims to maximize nuclear physics’ potential with exascale computing, particularly in anticipation of tight future budgets.

According to the report, “A plan should be developed within the theoretical community and enabled by the appropriate sponsors that permits forefront computing resources to be deployed for nuclear science researchers and establishes the infrastructure and collaborations needed to take advantage of exascale capabilities as they become available.”

As computing power has progressed, endeavors like the Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program, which allocates times on the nation’s most powerful supercomputers, have helped astrophysicists simulate exploding stars and nuclear theorists fill out the periodic table of elements.

“More than 15 percent of all awarded INCITE hours this year were dedicated to various computational nuclear physics problems,” said computational astrophysicist Bronson Messer of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which houses the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF). “Understanding the current and future needs of this community is obviously of critical importance to the OLCF.”

The event, which was hosted by the Southeastern Universities Research Association, covered issues from nuclear structure to astrophysics. Messer spoke about his supernovae research, and how computation helped researchers revise theories about how stars explode and how pulsars get their spin. ORNL Nuclear Physicist David Dean, whose research through the years has uncovered rare isotopes and helped characterizing the carbon-14 nucleus, also spoke, as did OLCF User Council Chair Balint Joo. In addition to highlighting current accomplishments in the field, the participants’ main goal was to evaluate the current state of computational nuclear physics and provide a vision for its future. This planning is essential for the evolution of computational nuclear physics in the era of exascale computing.

Other speakers included the following OLCF users: Aurel Bulgac of the University of Washington; Adam Burrows of Princeton University; Joseph Carlson of Los Alamos National Laboratory; George Fann of ORNL; William Raphael Hix of ORNL; Paul Mackenzie of Fermilab; Witold Nazarewicz or ORNL and the University of Tennessee; Kenneth Roche of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Nicolas Schunk of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; James Vary of Iowa State University; and OLCF Director of Science Jack Wells.

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by Eric Gedenk