Research Highlights



John Hawley

Department of Astronomy

Some galaxies have an extremely energetic central region known as an Active Galactic Nucleus. These regions are among the brightest objects in the universe, often outshining all of the stars in their home galaxy combined. In at least some cases, the power source at the center of these extraordinary nuclei is actually a black hole; as gases are drawn toward the black hole, they spiral around it, generating gravitational energy that is converted into heat and electromagnetic waves. A simulation created by Professor John Hawley (CLAS) with collaborators from Johns Hopkins University reveals this process at an unprecedented level of detail. By allowing researchers to better understand the complex dynamics surrounding black holes, the simulation sheds new light on some of the universe’s brightest—and most mysterious—features.

Visualization of Black Hole Accretion Disks

Federico Ciliberto

Department of Economics

While conducting research for a highly-technical study of market behavior, Dr. Ciliberto realized that he needed to parallelize an integration over a sample distribution. ARCS staff member Ed Hall successfully parallelized Ciliberto’s Matlab code and taught him how to do production runs on the University’s high-performance clusters. “The second stage estimator was computationally intensive,” Ciliberto recalls. “We needed to compute the distribution of the residuals and unobservables for multiple parameter values and at many different points of the distribution, which requires parallelizing the computation. Ed Hall’s expertise in this area was crucial. In fact, without Ed’s contribution, this project could not have been completed.”

Market Behavior

Nick Tustison and James Stone

Department of Radiology

A powerful new technique for quantifying regions of the cerebral cortex was developed by Nick Tustison and James Stone at the University of Virginia along with collaborators from the University of Pennsylvania. It was evaluated using large data sets comprised of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the human brain processed on a high-performance computing cluster at the University of Virginia.  By making this technique available as open-source software, other neuroscientists are now able to investigate various hypotheses concerning the relationship between brain structure and development. Tustison’s and Stone’s software has been widely disseminated and is being actively incorporated into a variety of clinical research studies, including a collaborative effort between the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs, exploring the long term effects of TBI among military service members.

Matthew Reidenbach

Department of Environmental Sciences

Professor Reidenbach and his team are using Rivanna to run computational fluid dynamics simulations of wave- and tide-driven flows over coral reefs in order to determine how storms, nutrient inputs, and sediments impact reef health. This is an image of dye fluxing from the surface of the Hawaiian coral Porites compressa utilizing a technique known as planar laser induced fluorescence (PLIF). Reefs such as this one have been severely impacted by human alteration, both locally through additional inputs of sediments and nutrients, and globally through increased sea surface temperatures caused by climate change. Reidenbach is hopeful that his computational models will allow scientists to better predict the future health of reefs based on human activity and improve global reef restoration efforts.

Leonid V. Zhigilei

Department of Materials Science & Engineering

Dr. Zhigilei and his team are using Rivanna to perform large-scale atomistic simulations aimed at revealing fundamental processes responsible for the modification of surface morphology and microstructure of metal targets treated by short pulse laser irradiation. The simulations are performed with a highly-optimized parallel computer code capable of reproducing collective dynamics in systems consisting of up to billions of atoms.  As a result, the simulations naturally account for the complexity of the material response to the rapid laser energy deposition and provide clear visual representations, or “atomic movies,” of laser-induced dynamic processes. The mechanistic insights revealed in the simulations have an immediate impact on the development of the theoretical understanding of laser-induced processes and assist in optimization of laser processing parameters in current applications based on laser surface modification and nanoparticle generation in laser ablation.