University of Texas at Austin

Friday, September 3, 2010

Getting on the cover of Science

From 27 August 2010 Vol 329, Issue 5995, Pages 985-1112. Reprinted with permission from AAAS.

From 27 August 2010 Vol 329, Issue 5995, Pages 985-1112. Reprinted with permission from AAAS.

It’s not the same as getting your picture on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, but getting an image you created on the cover of Science is still cool.

Georg Stadler’s computer-generated image of a brand-new way to more accurately show plate tectonics in a computer simulation was featured on the cover of the journal’s Aug. 27 edition.

“We heard about the interest of Science in featuring our story on the cover a couple of weeks ago,” said Stadler, an applied mathematician at the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES) at The University of Texas at Austin.

“We went back and forth a couple of times with their art director,” he said, “till we came up with something that is scientifically relevant and representative of the paper, and looks appealing on a cover.”

An image showing the forces of plate tectonics. Image by Georg Stadler.

An image showing the forces of plate tectonics. Image by Georg Stadler.

The image, in cool blue and green, shows the dynamic interaction of tectonic plates in the southwest Pacific Ocean that were computed from a flow model of Earth’s interior. The image also shows the computational mesh, which is refined to resolve the forces in the deep mantle that are coupled directly into the edges of plates through narrow slabs.

“Getting the cover additionally to the paper (being published in Science) is a very nice reward for a lot of hard work that went into this project,” Stadler said.

The supercomputer model the researchers developed produced an unprecedented view of plate tectonics and the forces that drive it.

Members of the tectonics team view an image in the Visualization Laboratory. They are, from left, Omar Ghattas, Georg Stadler, Carsten Burstedde and Lucas Wilcox. Photo by Leigh Brodie.

Members of the tectonics team view an image in the Visualization Laboratory. They are, from left, Omar Ghattas, Georg Stadler, Carsten Burstedde and Lucas Wilcox. Photo by Leigh Brodie.

Mathematicians, computational scientists and geophysicists worked across disciplinary boundaries to develop parallel algorithms that allow for adaptivity that scaled to the hundreds of thousands of processor cores of the largest supercomputers.

The project used the resources of ICES and the Texas Advanced Computing Center.

Read more about the project here and here.

The team included Omar Ghattas, a professor of geological sciences and mechanical engineering and director of the Center for Computational Geosciences in ICES, research associates Stadler, Carsten Burstedde and Lucas Wilcox, and Michael Gurnis, professor of geophysics and director of the Caltech Seismological Laboratory, and his student Laura Alisic.

Stadler appreciated how the colleagues worked across disciplines.

“Sometimes, in interdisciplinary collaborations, the gap between the fields can be very large and an enormous amount of energy has to be used simply to find common ground and language,” he said.

But, he said, it helped that Gurnis, a geophysicist at Caltech, is experienced with computational methods.

“He was able to understand the computational issues,” Stadler says, “which made it a pleasure to work with him.”

It also helped that the work involved researchers at ICES.

“ICES is one of the few places where real interdisciplinary research in computational science is made possible and appreciated,” Stadler said.

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