System Bits: Sept. 11

Texas supercomputer; 5G/IoT network; nanoscale origami.


Everything’s faster in Texas
The Frontera supercomputing system was formally unveiled last week at the Texas Advanced Computing Center. The system was deployed in June on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

It is the fifth-fastest supercomputer in the world at present and the world’s fastest academic supercomputer.

Dell EMC and Intel collaborated on fitting out Frontera. Work began just over a year ago, when the National Science Foundation provided a $60 million grant to TACC for a new petascale computing system. Frontera replaces the Stampede2 system at the Austin facility.

Up to 80% of the available hours on Frontera, more than 55 million node hours each year, will be made available through the NSF Petascale Computing Resource Allocation program.

Frontera has two computing subsystems, a primary computing system focused on double precision performance, and a second subsystem focused on single precision streaming-memory computing. Frontera also has multiple storage systems, as well as interfaces to cloud and archive systems, and a set of application nodes for hosting virtual servers, according to TACC.

Frontera, the fifth most powerful supercomputer in the world and the fastest in academia. Image credit: Texas Advanced Computing Center

The primary computing system was provided by Dell EMC and is powered by Intel processors, interconnected by a Mellanox Infiniband HDR and HDR-100 interconnect. The initial configuration of the system has 8,008 available compute nodes.

Each compute node contains Intel’s Xeon Platinum 8280 “Cascade Lake” processors. There are 28 cores per socket and 56 cores per node. It relies upon DDR-4 memory devices. The local disk is a 480-gigabyte solid-state drive.

“The Frontera system will provide researchers computational and artificial intelligence capabilities that have not existed before for academic research. With Intel technology, this new supercomputer opens new possibilities in science and engineering to advance research including cosmic understanding, medical cures, and energy needs,” Trish Damkroger, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Extreme Computing Organization, said in a statement.

Crafting a low-power IoT network with millimeter-wave tech
Researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed a cheaper and more efficient method for Internet of Things devices to receive high-speed wireless connectivity.

With 75 billion IoT devices expected to be in place by 2025, a growing strain will be placed on requirements of wireless networks. Contemporary Wi-Fi and cellular networks won’t be enough to support the influx of IoT devices, the researchers highlighted in their new study.

Millimeter wave, a network that offers multi-gigahertz of unlicensed bandwidth, more than 200 times that allocated to today’s Wi-Fi and cellular networks, can be used to address the looming issue. In fact, 5G networks are going to be powered by mmWave technology. However, the hardware required to use mmWave is expensive and power-hungry, which are significant deterrents to it being deployed in many IoT applications.

“To address the existing challenges in exploiting mmWave for IoT applications, we created a novel mmWave network called mmX,” said Omid Abari, an assistant professor in Waterloo’s David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science. “mmX significantly reduces cost and power consumption of a mmWave network enabling its use in all IoT applications.”

In comparison with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which are slow for many IoT applications, mmX provides a much higher bitrate.

“mmX will not only improve our Wi-Fi and wireless experience, as we will receive much faster internet connectivity for all IoT devices, but it can also be used in applications, such as, virtual reality, autonomous cars, data centers and wireless cellular networks,” said Ali Abedi, a postdoctoral fellow at the Cheriton School of Computer Science. “Any sensor you have in your home, which traditionally used Wi-Fi and lower frequency can now communicate using high-speed millimeter-wave networks.

“Autonomous cars are also going to use a huge number of sensors in them which will be connected through wire; now, you can make all of them wireless and more reliable.”

Origami with a graphene-based nanostructure
In “Atomically-Precise, Custom-Design Origami Graphene Nanostructures,” just published in the journal Science, an international team of researchers have accomplished just that, using sophisticated and precise control of atoms to experiment with new structures and set the stage for future generations of breakthroughs in quantum technology.

“Under atomic-scale control of these graphene-based nanostructures, researchers are able to build fascinating new structures,” said Vanderbilt University Distinguished Professor of Physics and Engineering Sokrates T. Pantelides, who collaborated on the research. “In the future, these fundamental discoveries are likely to serve as groundwork for new devices our current generation can’t even begin to imagine.”

While the ancient art form of origami is currently used in large-scale applications, such as in architecture or battery design, researchers have long sought to apply origami techniques to small atomic structures, including graphene – a two-dimensional semimetal and “supermaterial” capturing the attention of researchers around the world for its properties of tensile strength, flexibility and impermeability – to name a few. However, technological limitations prevented researchers from using origami’s fine control to build and manipulate custom graphene structures.

A collaboration between Pantelides, University of Maryland Professor Min Ouyang, and a team of researchers at the Institute of Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing headed by Professor Hong-Jun Gao, the findings build on many years of investigations of carbon-based nanostructures, including the discovery of carbon nanotubes and the successful isolation of monolayer graphene, which was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The experiments, conducted by Professor Hong-Jun Gao’s group in Beijing, use scanning tunneling microscope manipulation at low temperatures. These studies are the first to successfully and exactly fold and unfold graphene nano-islands in a variety of randomly chosen directions – each of which yields a complex nanostructure with distinct properties.

Folding these small graphene fragments results in interesting structures, comprising a tubular edge, like the previously discovered carbon nanotubes, attached to a bilayer stack of graphene at a twisted angle.

Some graphene nano-islands can be used to form so-called intramolecular junctions, which are key components for electronic devices. The researchers measured the electrical properties of the origami structures and used theoretical quantum calculations to clarify their atomic-scale structure and electronic properties, setting the stage for the construction of custom nanostructures with engineered quantum properties, ultimately novel devices and even quantum machines.

The work was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, National Key Research and Development Projects of China, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Work at Vanderbilt University was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. Work at the University of Maryland was supported by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation.

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