August 2020

Computing nuclei properties at lightning speed

Physicists draw from Oak Ridge’s Summit supercomputer to train personal computers to calculate atomic nuclei properties in about an hour.

Nuclear physicists have developed a new method for quickly emulating the properties of atomic nuclei – quantum objects whose properties are complex and cannot be explained by classical physics. The new method helps scientists understand those quantum properties. The emulator allows a standard personal computer to approach these quantum problems in less than an hour, starting with a training stage that uses a small set of exact calculations from the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility’s Summit supercomputer. The emulator then generates 1 million predictions for the ground-state energy and charge radius of nuclei of the isotope oxygen-16.

Researchers have long sought to uncover the properties of the interaction that binds protons and neutrons to atomic nuclei. But analyzing millions of exact samples of a complex nucleus would take the Summit supercomputer more than a year. This new method dramatically reduces the computational complexity of the many-nucleon problem and introduces new possibilities to systematically quantify uncertainties in first-principle atomic nuclei computations.