3 mins read 01 Dec 2020

Australian-led Team Finalist for Supercomputing Award

An international team led by the University of Western Australia is one of six finalists for the Gordon Bell Prize for their work on the Square Kilometre Array.

(From left to right) Rodrigo Tobar, Prof. Andreas Wicenec and Markus Dolensky from ICRAR’s Data Intensive Astronomy team. Credit: ICRAR/UWA.

A team developing data pipelines for the future Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope was surprised to be shortlisted for the prestigious Gordon Bell prize for high-performance computing. The international team, led by the University of Western Australia (UWA), used Summit, the world’s fastest supercomputer at the time, to process simulated observations ahead of the telescope being built. The project was a collaboration between the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Shanghai Astronomical Observatory (SHAO).

ICRAR director of Data Intensive Astronomy Professor Andreas Wicenec, who is based at UWA, said the team was surprised but thrilled to be a finalist in the Gordon Bell Prize.

“I didn’t expect it at all given the calibre of previous winners and the highly-sophisticated nature of their projects,” he said. “We didn’t have the Gordon Bell Prize in mind when we set out to do this work, so it’s fantastic to be recognised for the remarkable performance the multinational team achieved.”

The AMC Gordon Bell Prize was established in the 1980’s, and continues to track the progress of parallel computing, while rewarding innovation in applying high-performance computing to science, engineering, and large-scale data analytics.

The Square Kilometre Array

A composite image of a real photograph on the left showing the current SKA prototype station, blended with an artist’s impression on the right of future SKA stations. Credit: ICRAR and SKAO.

The SKA telescope is set to be the fourth telescope built at the Murchison Observatory in Western Australia, one of the newest observatories in the world located on the land of the traditional owners, the Wajarri Yamaji people. Three other telescopes are already on-site - the Murchison Wide-field Array (MWA), the Experiment to Detect the Global Epoch of Reionization Signature (EDGES), and the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP). ASKAP is a technological demonstrator for SKA, which will have a one square kilometre collecting area. The telescope will be co-hosted by the Karoo region in South Africa, and the Murchison Observatory in Western Australia, made up of thousands of low-frequency antennas. 

“When complete, the SKA will be the world’s largest radio telescope and one of the world’s largest data generators,” he said. “The low frequency part of the telescope alone is set to have more than 130,000 antennas in its initial phase, generating around 550 gigabytes of data every second.”

Using The Summit Supercomputer

Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s supercomputer - Summit. Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

To process the immense amounts of data produced by SKA, the team used Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit, the most powerful supercomputer in the world at the time. For the scale of data required for the SKA, Professor Wicenec said the team used a cluster of 4560 computers, featuring 27,360 high-end GPUs and 191,520 CPU cores.

“The whole simulation ran for about three hours at an average of 64.9 PFLOPs, or 64,900,000,000,000,000 mathematical operations, per second,” he said. “The highest writing data rate we achieved was 925GB a second, and the effective throughput of the complete simulation was about a factor of two better than what is required by the SKA.” 

The group’s nomination for the Gordon Bell prize was supported by SKA director general Professor Philip Diamond and US National Radio Astronomy Observatory director Dr Tony Beasley.


We acknowledge the Wajarri Yamatji as the traditional owners of the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory site.