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Welsh Universities Receive Supercomputing Investment

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Supercomputing investment of £15m to drive ‘world-class scientific research’, as well as create jobs and industry partnerships

Wales is set to benefit from a significant tranche of funding for a new national supercomputing research facility.

The investment, totalling £15m, is aimed primarily at Welsh centres of learning, namely Cardiff University acting as the lead, coupled with other university partners such as Aberystwyth University, Bangor University and Swansea University.

The bulk of the funding (£9m) comes from the European Regional Development Fund (via the Welsh government), with the remaining investment contributed by the four university partners.

supercomputerUpgraded Facilties

The idea behind the Welsh supercomputing investment comes after the country first developed a £44.27 million supercomputing facility in 2009.

That facility was a joint project between the Universities of Swansea and Cardiff and concentrated on image processing, animation, 3D visualisation, data mining and simulations.

The new investment however will help the country “compete globally for research and innovation that requires state-of-the-art computing facilities to simulate and solve complex scientific problems.”

Supercomputing Wales will apparently provide experts with access to powerful computing facilities. It hopes this will allow the country’s universities to capture more research funding, increase scientific partnerships, and create highly-skilled research jobs.

It also hopes to support  collaborations with industrial and other partners.

But where will the money go? Well it seems the investment will help upgrade the two supercomputer hubs at Cardiff and Swansea, and will help employ Research Software Engineers, embedded with research teams.

“Supercomputing Wales is a significant investment that represents a major step forward for Wales, contributing towards competitiveness in science, engineering and innovation,” explained Cardiff University’s Professor Roger Whitaker, Director of Supercomputing Wales.

“The new facility will support large-scale research proposals that demonstrate the degree of ambition called for in the Welsh Government’s science policy, Science for Wales,” Professor Whitaker said.

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Supercomputing Projects

“Supercomputing has also been recognised as an important component of the UK’s new industrial strategy,” he added. “This programme of investment will ensure that Welsh university research teams have access to facilities to undertake world-class research and to develop new collaborative projects with industrial and other partners.”

He pointed out that the Gravitational Physics Group at Cardiff University will benefit from the upgraded facilities, after they last year detected for the first time ever gravitational waves as part of the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) consortium.

The investment will allow those researchers to “peer into the cores of exploding stars and probe the structure of neutron stars,” in the coming years to expand the current understanding of the universe.

Meanwhile the Cardiff University-led Wales Gene Park will also take advantage of the improved supercomputing facilities, to aid in its research into the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of a wide-range of inherited diseases and cancer.

Swansea University will use the improved facilities to support ‘The Bloodhound Project’ – the Land Speed Record project attempting to create the world’s first 1,000 mph car. That university will also use the facilities to generate weather forecasting and improve current climate models.

Aberystwyth University will apparently use the facilities to support research projects including DNA sequencing for plant breeding, and the ‘Big Data’ challenges of earth observations. Bangor University will meanwhile use the facilities will support tidal energy and oceanographic projects.

The UK continues to invest in supercomputing facilities and infrastructure. In 2014 a High Performance Computing (HPC) network was established in the Highlands of Scotland, which was connected to supercomputing hubs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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