Physicists to simulate the evolution of the Universe

Scientists at LJMU will take major steps forward in understanding how our Universe came into existence by using high-powered supercomputers.

Computational astrophysicists Professors Robert Crain and Ian McCarthy and Dr Andreea Font of the Astrophysics Research Institute will use the UK’s pre-eminent scientific supercomputing facility to simulate the evolution of the Universe from just after the Big Bang all the way to present day.

The trio are part of a team awarded nearly half a billion core hours on Science and Technology Facilities Council's DiRAC network.

The allocation was made to the Virgo Consortium for Cosmological Supercomputer Simulations, which is a collaboration between physicists in the UK, Germany, The Netherlands, Canada, United States, and Japan.  The ARI HPC group constitutes the second largest UK node of the Virgo Consortium and played a leading role in the DiRAC bid.

The awarded time, the largest ever DiRAC allocation for an astrophysics project, is equivalent to more than 5,000 standard computers running for 10 years and an in-kind investment of more than £8.4 million.  

Redefining simulations

The ARI group says it will help “redefine the state-of-the-art in cosmological simulations.”

The group is particularly interested in understanding how structure formed and evolved in the Universe and in identifying the elusive natures of dark matter and of dark energy.

These two substances dominate the dynamics of the Universe but astronomers still do not know what they are made of or how they may interact. 

The ARI group will simulate a variety of different model universes and through comparisons to state-of-the-art observations, including from the new James Webb Telescope, Euclid, and the Vera Rubin Observatory, they will be able to take major steps forward in understanding how our present-day Universe came into existence and what its ultimate fate will be.


The simulations will produce a colossal quantity of data - tens of petabytes, equivalent to 10,000 LJMU OneDrive allocations - much of which will be transferred to LJMU for analysis on the University’s new centralised high performance computing facility, Prospero, which is equipped with two petabyte-scale parallel datastores.

Of the awarded time allocation, Professor Ian McCarthy said: “This is a major success for the group.  It will allow a step-change in the realism with which we can model our Universe and will undoubtedly shed light on some of the most pressing challenges in physics, including helping to uncover what is driving the accelerated expansion of the Universe.

Professor Phil James, Director of the ARI, said: “This remarkable allocation enables ARI researchers to build on their previous generation of state-of-the-art simulations, such as ARTEMIS, EAGLE and E-MOSAICS, which have proven to be major international research highlights and formed a major component of the ARI’s submission to REF2021.   The award recognises the innovative and inspiring work of the ARI cosmological simulations group and paves the way for exciting breakthroughs in the future.

DiRAC director Professor Mark Wilkinson from the University of Leicester said: “Today, high performance computing underpins discoveries in almost all areas of science and innovation. Numerous studies have demonstrated the significant economic benefits of investment in high performance computing and confirmed that ‘to out-compute is to out-compete.

“The DiRAC HPC facility is an outstanding example of HPC driven innovation in action. While it was originally established to support the UK’s world leading research in particle physics, astrophysics, cosmology and nuclear physics, DiRAC has delivered technological innovations with global impact and developed techniques now being applied in fields as diverse as personalised medicine, government planning and solar weather forecasting.

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