Engineer de Bruyn Kops to Study Turbulence Using U.S. Defense Department Computing Power

AMHERST, Mass. – Steve de Bruyn Kops, an engineering professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, heads a team of scientists that will be using high-performance computing capacity and data storage available from the U.S. Department of Defense to study fundamental aspects of fluid turbulence. The results of the study will be used to reduce drag on underwater vehicles, improve sensors systems such as radars and advanced local-scale weather predictions.  

The grant will provide the research team with 528 million hours of computing time, storage for several petabytes – one quadrillion bytes – of data, and technical expertise for managing large data sets. The team will use the high-performance computers to simulate turbulence in fluids and to understand the complex behavior it generates. The work is supported by a five-year, $750,000 contract and existing Department of Defense grants to each scientist on the team.         

The grant has been awarded as one of two Frontier Projects, designed to solve science and technology problems that cannot be addressed without high-performance computer capabilities. The projects awarded are expected to be among the most computationally demanding projects the Defense Department will address. This is the first year Frontier Projects have been awarded.

De Bruyn Kops, an associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, says turbulent flows are all around us and are always complex. In fact, turbulence is considered to be one of the hardest classical physics problems. An example of the flows he studies is the sometimes violent and patchy turbulence airplanes encounter in the upper atmosphere.

With access to the Defense Department’s high-performance computer network, de Bruyn Kops and his team plan to create a new complex data set that covers a range of situations involving turbulence in the ocean and in the atmosphere. They will focus on instances with very wide ranges of eddies and vortices, which is why large computers and storage are required. “So this puts the UMass Amherst College of Engineering in the top league for high-performance computing,” said de Bruyn Kops.

Ultimately, understanding turbulence will require accurately measuring it in the ocean and atmosphere. De Bruyn Kops said that part of his project is to use the simulated flows to understand assumptions that are made when converting optical measurements of turbulence to turbulence data.

Another component of the project is modeling. Since running simulations requiring millions of computer hours is not practical for solving engineering problems, collaborators at the University of Washington and Cornell University will use the large simulations to improve high-speed models for stratified flows that are suitable for designing engineered systems.