Campus: NORTHRIDGE -- November 29, 2006

CSUN Shares in $5.5 Million Department of Energy Grant to Find Computational Solutions for Corrosion Problems

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a $5.5 million, five-year grant to a joint-research team that includes Cal State Northridge, Harvard, USC and Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national labs to create a computational model to understand why and how stress corrosion cracking occurs in materials used in such power-generating technologies as turbines, combustors and fuel cells.

The award was made through the department's SciDAC (Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing) program. SciDAC is the single largest scientific computing program currently funded by the federal government. The program was created "to bring together many of the nation's top researchers to develop new computational methods for tackling some of the most challenging scientific problems."

"It is quite an honor to be part of such a grant," said physics professor Gang Lu, who will be heading CSUN's portion of the project. 'All five of the institutions who are part of the award will be working together to try to come up with computational methodologies that can be used to study stress corrosion cracking in materials used in certain power generators.

"Basically, what that means," Lu said, "is that we want to understand the fundamental physics underlying the causes of the stress corrosion cracking so that we might be able to prevent the cracking from happening in other materials. With alternative-energy technology developing so quickly, it is important that the materials that go into making that technology happen can survive and function."

The project is titled "Hierarchical Petascale Simulation Framework for Stress Corrosion." Petascale computing refers to both petaflops, a million-billion calculations per second, and petabytes, a million-billion bytes of data.

Lu said this level of computing power will enable researchers to study scientific problems at an unprecedented level of detail. For example, current models allow scientists to design materials with thousands of atoms, while petascale computing will allow models with millions of atoms, yielding more accurate simulations of the properties of these materials.

"But effectively utilizing petascale computing for scientific research poses significant challenges," Lu said. "The SciDAC teams bring together experts in various scientific disciplines with computer scientists and applied mathematicians to focus on the immediate needs of the applications in overcoming the challenges of petascale computing and anticipate future challenges."

Lu explained that corrosion is an enormously complex technological and economic problem with an annual cost of about 3 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. The performance and lifetime of materials used in nuclear technology and in advanced power generation technologies such as turbines, combustors and fuel cells is often severely limited in corrosive environments or extreme conditions of high pressure and temperature in an environment containing oxygen.

To prevent stress corrosion cracking and to predict the lifetime beyond which stress corrosion cracking may cause failure requires that the researchers understand the atomistic mechanisms underlying stress corrosion cracking, that is, the conditions influencing initiation, dynamics and growth rates of stress corrosion cracking, Lu explained.

Lu said the research team on the project consists of computational materials scientists, applied mathematicians and computer scientists. Their goal is to develop a stress corrosion cracking computational framework consisting of modeling techniques, algorithms, analytical underpinnings and release-quality software.

"To put it simply, we hope to develop something that will solve this problem," he said.

Contact: Carmen Chandler, 818-677-2130

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