Jefferson Lab Science a Focus of Exascale Computing Initiative

While next-generation supercomputers are expected to arrive in the next decade, scientists will need to spend considerable time in preparations to make the most of the future machines’ capabilities. Now, Jefferson Lab scientists have been awarded $2.1 million as part of a multi-institutional project sponsored by the Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project to prepare for this next major leap in computing capability.

The “Exascale Lattice Gauge Theory Opportunities and Requirements for Nuclear and High Energy Physics” project also includes researchers from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Boston University, Brookhaven National Lab, the University of Illinois, Columbia University, the University of Utah, Stony Brook and the University of Edinburgh.

“We want to show what we can do with these new machines when they are right out of the box,” said Robert Edwards, a senior staff scientist in the Center for Theoretical and Computational Physics at Jefferson Lab and a co-principal investigator on the project. “This is allowing us to plan for the software development that we need to carry out the science when these machines become available.”

With the new grant, Edwards and his colleagues are now beginning the development of the software that will run on an exascale machine. An exascale machine will be capable of a billion billion calculations per second, which is roughly 50 times faster than America’s current fastest supercomputer (Titan at Oak Ridge National Laboratory). The U.S. target for deployment of an exascale supercomputer is the mid-2020s.

The new project includes development work that will benefit several topics that present opportunities for groundbreaking discoveries in high energy and nuclear physics. For instance, the grant will fund a four-year project that builds on recent software advances that have enabled ever-more-detailed calculations of lattice Quantum Chromodynamics (lattice QCD), a means of solving the highly complex theory of QCD that describes how quarks and gluons build the protons and neutrons in the nucleus of the atom.

In general, scientists hope to improve the precision of lattice calculations to calculate, for the first time, the complete range of particle interactions, from quarks and gluons, to the protons and neutrons they build, to the nuclei built of those protons and neutrons. They expect their work will lead to a new understanding of these particles’ underlying structure and contribute to the Standard Model, the theory that describes how the many particles and forces that build our visible universe interact.

“We want to conduct tests of the Standard Model in order to calculate the properties of nuclei that will allow us to better understand the fundamental forces in nuclei,” ,” Edwards explained.

According to the proposal, the overall project’s computational work will benefit several experimental areas, including:

  • the design of a future Electron-Ion Collider, a new nuclear physics facility being proposed to study the detailed structure of protons, neutrons and nuclei;
  • the proposed next-generation ton-scale double beta decay experiment, which requires more accurate calculation for proper interpretation - the nuclear physics experiment is attempting the first observation of neutrinoless double beta decay, a process that is not allowed under the Standard Model and a clear indicator of new physics; and
  • the Muon g-2 high energy physics experiment that plans to measure the anomalous magnetic moment of the muon, a measurement which can only be tested against the Standard Model once the necessary lattice QCD calculations have been performed.

At Jefferson Lab, work supported by the Exascale Computing Project began September 30 and is primarily performed by Edwards, Jie Chen, Balint Joo and Frank Winter. Next year a postdoctoral researcher will join the group. The team will focus on several methods of streamlining the current algorithms for peak performance on the physical architectures that computer scientists expect will be used in the first exascale machines.

Successful proposals submitted to DOE’s Exascale Computing Project  were selected both for their significance to society and their ability to  advance exascale computing. Domain areas encompass clean energy, national and economic security, scientific discovery, climate and environmental science, and precision medicine. More information about DOE’s Exascale Computing Project can be found in the DOE news release.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit

Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, a joint venture of the Southeastern Universities Research Association, Inc. and PAE Applied Technologies, manages and operates the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, or Jefferson Lab, for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

Contact: Kandice Carter, 757-269-7263,