CU Boulder awarded $3 million grant to better simulate particle movements

BOULDER, Colo. – The federal government has awarded a $3 million grant to researchers at CU Boulder studying how small particles like grains of sand and dust move and flow.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Energy will allow researchers to kick off the second phase of a particle simulation project that started in January 2016.

Scientists aim to improve the computer models they use to simulate particle movements. Right now, they can simulate the equivalent of about a cup of sand and researchers hope this grant will help them multiply that capability by a factor of 100.

“Engineers still have to use trial and error experiments for their designs, which can be inefficient in terms of time and funding. But by bringing the particle counts way up, folks could potentially start using these models as an actual design tool,” said Christine Hrenya, a professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

The main obstacle to improving simulations is computing power and this grant should help researchers find ways to make their computer algorithms more efficient.

Researchers say improved simulation will have widespread applications, from sustainable energy like solar panels and biomass to pharmaceutical manufacturing and space travel.

“NASA doesn’t want its delicate instruments sandblasted all the time, so there is a need to design mitigation strategies. We could potentially apply this type of model to try to predict the flow trajectory of these dust particles,” Hrenya said.

The project will use supercomputers located at CU Boulder, the Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

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