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  • 2018-01-03 17:05:15
  • Article ID: 687451

Reaching the Department of Energy's 'Top 40'

  • Credit: Image courtesy of Claire Ballweg/Department of Energy and National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.

    Four of the Department of Energy’s ‘Top 40’ research milestones since 1977 involved Argonne scientists.

In marking the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Department’s Office of Science highlighted four papers from Argonne National Laboratory that are among 40 “cream-of-the-crop” research projects that have changed the face of science.

The top 40 research papers were selected from among the thousands that the DOE Office of Science has supported to represent the most important research conducted — whether through the national laboratories, user facilities or its grants programs — in the Department’s 40-year history. Four of them, coauthored by Argonne researchers and their colleagues, advanced scientific frontiers by:

  • Fully implementing the Message Passing Interface (MPI) — a common language that helps computer processors communicate — for the first time
  • Using genome sequencing to confirm a new branch of life
  • Unveiling the PETSc toolkit of parallel computing software
  • Introducing Quantum Monte Carlo computations that quantify reactions and structures inside atomic nuclei

 “Today…every parallel computer comes with a Message Passing Interface implementation." – Ewing (Rusty) Lusk, Argonne Distinguished Fellow with the laboratory’s Mathematics and Computer Science division

Argonne’s four “top 40” papers are:

A high-performance, portable implementation of the
MPI Message Passing Interface

Argonne’s William Gropp, Ewing (Rusty) Lusk and a collaborator wrote this 1996 Parallel Computing paper that described the first full implementation of the MPI standard, known as MPICH.

MPICH enables programmers to develop software that can run on parallel systems of all sizes — from multicore nodes to clusters to the most powerful supercomputers. The interface and its derivatives have become the most popular versions of MPI in the world.

“At the time of publication, the Message Passing Interface specification was still new, and its adoption as a standard by the parallel computing community was far from certain,” said Lusk. “Today, partially as a long-term result of the work reported in this paper, every parallel computer comes with an MPI implementation.”

Gropp was in Argonne’s Mathematics and Computer Science (MCS) division at the time and is now the director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Lusk is an Argonne Distinguished Fellow in the laboratory’s MCS division.

Complete genome sequence of the methanogenic archaeon,
Methanococcus jannaschii

The department hailed this landmark 1996 paper, co-written by MCS division researcher Ross Overbeek and published in Science, for confirming a new branch of the Tree of Life. The paper described the results of sequencing the genome of the heat-loving M. jannaschii microbe that had originally been isolated from vents on the ocean’s floor.

The results confirmed earlier ribosomal RNA-based classification schemes establishing Archaea as distinct from both bacteria and complex, multi-celled organisms. Because Overbeek and his collaborators found the genes and metabolic pathways in Archaea to be sufficiently different to warrant a separate classification, their research helped confirm the tripartite view of the Tree of Life.

Efficient management of parallelism in object-oriented
numerical software libraries

Although supercomputers had been splitting up and assigning work to different processors since 1982, coding these systems was still time consuming and prone to error 15 years later, requiring a high level of expertise. 

An all-Argonne team of researchers wrote this groundbreaking paper, which described the PETSc 2.0 (Portable, Extensible Toolkit for Scientific computation) software. The paper appeared in the 1997 book Modern Software Tools in Scientific Computing. Authors were Satish Balay, William Gropp, Lois Curfman McInnes and Barry F. Smith, all in (or alumni of) the MCS division.

Hailing PETSc as “arguably one of the most influential pieces of software in the history of scientific computing,” DOE recognized that the toolkit brought together fundamental routines needed for parallel scientific simulations, whether in supercomputers or conventional computers networked together. PETSc conceals the complexity of parallel numerical software based on the message-passing model, while maintaining high efficiency and portability.

Quantum Monte Carlo calculations of nuclei with A <~7

Before this 1997 Physical Review C paper, scientists could not accurately calculate the properties of atomic nuclei from realistic descriptions of the forces between individual protons or neutrons.

In this landmark paper, Argonne nuclear physicists and co-authors Steven C. Pieper and Robert B. Wiringa extended beyond the simplest nuclei a sophisticated approach that relied on increasing computational power to answer questions about the reactions and structures of atomic nuclei. The new computational approach, called Quantum Monte Carlo (QMC), allowed researchers to see the splendor of the nuclear shell structure emanating directly from the interactions between protons and neutrons.

According to Wiringa, the team’s paper wove together “multiple threads of research to make the first accurate calculations of six- and seven-body nuclei using realistic two- and three-nucleon interactions.” 

The paper, noted Wiringa, is currently the 15th most cited in the history of Physical Review C

Summaries of all 40 landmark papers can be found here.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy'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 the Office of Science website.

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Columbia investigators have made a major breakthrough in nanophotonics research, with their invention of a novel "home-built" cryogenic near-field optical microscope that has enabled them to directly image, for the first time, the propagation and dynamics of graphene plasmons at variable temperatures down to negative 250 degrees Celsius. If researchers can harness this nanolight, they will be able to improve sensing, subwavelength waveguiding, and optical transmission of signals.

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Flexible, Highly Efficient Multimodal Energy Harvesting

A piezoelectric ceramic foam supported by a flexible polymer support provides a 10-fold increase in the ability to harvest mechanical and thermal energy over standard piezo composites, according to Penn State researchers.


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Power to the People

The University of Utah College of Engineering has received a $2 million grant to create a laboratory and develop new technology for communities with backup power sources, known as microgrids, so they can quickly and more securely operate in the event of a massive power outage due to a natural disaster or cyberattack.

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ORNL Facility Receives American Nuclear Society's Historic Landmark Designation

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Steven Cowley named director of DOE's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

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Scientists Turn X-ray Laser Into World's Fastest Water Heater

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PNNL Part of a New National Center for Near-Atomic Resolution of Biological Molecules

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SLAC Will Open One of Three NIH National Service Centers for Cryo-Electron Microscopy

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Planck Collaboration Wins 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize

The Planck Team--including researchers in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's (Berkeley Lab's) Computational Research and Physics divisions--have been awarded the 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize.


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Cracking the Code of Superconductivity and Magnetism

Neutron probes and theory reveal how electrons cooperate at lower temperatures.

The Secret to Measuring an Antineutrino's Energy

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