Last year, Discover presented a gallery of 6 images generated by scientists using supercomputers to do leading-edge research in various fields. After lots of positive feedback, we gathered together another bunch of supercomputer simulations.
The sim shown here could help minimize damage in future earthquakes. Carnegie Mellon University engineer Jacobo Bielak's simulations provide architects and regulators with reliable, localized estimates of the shaking intensity that buildings would have to withstand during earthquakes of varying strength. In this mock earthquake, created at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, a 4.4-magnitude tremor strikes three miles beneath a valley in northern Greece. The colors represent the amplitude of the ground's horizontal motion six seconds into the quake: The soft sands of the valley, shown in blue and red, shake more violently than do the surrounding solid rock, pictured in green and yellow.
"It's like shaking a bowl of Jell-O," Bielak says. "The soft Jell-O will always vibrate harder than the solid bowl." The model has proven so accurate that engineers designing ITER, an experimental nuclear fusion facility, have requested simulations of the building site in southern France.