Super computers power Welsh innovation

David Craddock explains how new research funding is producing collaboration between business and universities across Wales

This year Wales became the first country in the UK to boast a distributed national supercomputing network, meaning Welsh businesses can now access some of the most advanced computing technology in the world, along with the training, outreach and technical support to exploit it effectively.

High Performance Computing Wales is a unique collaboration between universities in Wales, enabling Welsh companies and academic researchers to speed up innovation by accessing supercomputing facilities. Our aim is to turn Wales into a leading international centre for specialist supercomputing research applications, ensuring that we grow our knowledge economy and create a strong international competitive advantage.

The scale and distributed nature of the network, combined with its open access to business, makes it a unique initiative, unprecedented in the UK and the rest of Europe. The venture has been made possible with support of £24 million from the Welsh Government and the Welsh European Funding Office, and £10 million from the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The infrastructure and some services have been developed in partnership with technology service provider Fujitsu.

High Performance Computing Wales is committed to boosting the Welsh economy by providing business and academic researchers with some of the most advanced computing technology in the world. In addition, we provide the training, outreach and technical support to exploit supercomputing technology effectively and power innovation.

Last week we announced seven new funded PhD studentships in computational science at Welsh universities as part of our collaboration with Fujitsu. This doubled fully-funded studentships and took the total inward investment High Performance Computing Wales has attracted into the country to £1 million.

The aim is to advance innovative research in the advanced manufacturing, life sciences and environmental sectors by providing business and academic researchers with some of the most advanced computing technology in the world. One studentship awardee is Dr David Willock of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute, Cardiff University. In collaboration with Beaumaris-based Nextek Innovations, he will use computer simulations to design and improve catalytic materials for the production of green chemical feedstock materials derived from agricultural waste. This will have a positive impact on the sustainable chemicals industry in Wales and further afield. Efficient catalysts reduce energy requirements and increase yields, leading to smaller chemical plant sizes with less local environmental impact. As Dr Willock said:

“Our research will help contribute to a sustainable future, while helping power innovation and economic development in Wales. This is an exciting opportunity to put High Performance Computing expertise from the academic world into use in the commercial chemicals arena.”

Dr Michaela Bray and Professor Roger Falconer of the Hydro-environmental Research Centre at Cardiff University, together with collaborator Waterco, will investigate the impact of extreme weather events upon steep river basins throughout Wales. This project will combine modelled climate data from the UK Met Office with a state of the art river-estuary flow model to undertake high-resolution climate and river flow modelling, contributing to more accurate flood maps for use in industry and by government agencies, planners and local authorities.

By investing in these studentships, and by making Fujitsu researchers available for collaboration with Welsh scientists, we believe we can contribute to creating a more sustainable future. The studentships cover a diverse cross-section of areas, many of which are also of commercial value – and we are already seeing some extremely positive results.

David Craddock is Chief Executive of High Performance Computing Wales.

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