At California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the world’s most powerful computers are working on some of our most fundamental questions about the universe. The Sierra supercomputer, for example, is delving into the Big Bang and trying to figure out why elementary particles have mass.

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But Sierra is also solving problems that are closer to home. This supercomputer and more recently the world’s second most powerful computer called Titan at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have been helping GE engineers to build a better jet engine.


This image shows a snapshot from a numerical simulation of a generic aircraft engine injector. Top Image: This animation shows a numerical simulation of a jet fuel spray performed on Sierra in collaboration with Cornell. Researchers used between 500,000 to 1 million CPU hours of simulation time. (One CPU hour is equal to one hour used by one computer processor for simulation.)

Jet engines started out as complicated creatures ever since GE built the first one in the U.S. in 1941, and their design has gotten exponentially more intricate since.

Madhu Pai, an engineer in the Computational Combustion Lab at GE Global Research, is working on an elaborate part in the jet engine combustor called the fuel injector. “It delivers the lifeblood of a jet engine combustor,” he says.

Injectors atomize liquid jet fuel and spray it into the combustion chamber where it burns and generates energy for propulsion. “They are one of the most challenging parts to design and very expensive to produce,” Pai says. (The next-generation LEAP jet engine is the world’s first engine with 3D-printed injectors.)

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This fuel nozzle for the LEAP jet engine was 3D-printed from a special alloy.

Pai has teamed up with researchers from Arizona State and Cornell universities to use Titan and Sierra to study what exactly happens inside a fuel injector. The time and processing power the engineers have at their disposal is equal to running 10,000 computer processors simultaneously for over 9 months. “The supercomputer gives us a microscopic view of the inside of the injector,” Pai says. “We can study the processes occurring in regions hidden behind the metal or where the fuel spray is too dense. This allows us to better understand the physics behind the design.”

This is physics with practical implications. Pai says that small changes to fuel nozzle geometry could lead to significant changes in engine performance. “These high-fidelity computer simulations help us understand how air and fuel mix and burn, and eventually reduce the number of trials,” Pai says. “Ultimately, we want to build more powerful engines that consume less fuel and have lower emissions.”

Pai’s simulations could also yield new insights beyond jet engines and improve injectors used in locomotives, land-based gas turbines, and potentially find applications in healthcare. “This is just the beginning,” he says.

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A still from a supercomputer simulation of a jet fuel spray.

Henry Sapiecha

Take a look at other GE research involving supercomputers here.

CICADA gliding UAV is designed to deploy sensors behind enemy lines
When soldiers want to gather intelligence in enemy territory, they often have to travel into high risk territory themselves, depositing acoustic, magnetic, chemical/biological or signals intelligence sensors by hand. Not only does this place the soldiers in harm’s way, but the logistics of such missions can also end up being quite costly. That’s why the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Vehicle Research Section created the CICADA unmanned air vehicle (UAV). The tiny sensor-equipped glider was successfully tested at Arizona’s Yuma Proving Grounds on September 1st.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


‘Pocket airports’ would link neighborhoods by air

A little over a year ago, we told you about NASA’s Green Flight Challenge. The Space Agency is seeking designs for low-cost, quiet, short take-off personal aircraft, that require little if any fossil fuel. The winning design, to be decided next July, will win US$1.6 million in production funds. The competition is being run by NASA’s light-aircraft partner CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency), which envisions the resulting Suburban Air Vehicles (SAVs) taking off and landing at small neighborhood “pocket airports.” At last week’s Future of Electric Vehicles conference, CAFE president Dr. Brien Seeley outlined just how those airports would work. Read More

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

5. The TSA needs a Barry White theme song

It’s unlikely that John Pistole, the Transportation Security Agency’s dour chief who once warned that terrorism must “always be considered imminent,” expected such public vilification over his agency’s new airport screening procedures.

But a protest that began with a few bloggers has, since Pistole announced the pat-down or body-scan policy in a one-paragraph note on a few weeks ago, become something closer to public execration. TSA screeners have been twitted by Saturday Night Live, Grammy-winning musician Steve Vaus, and cartoonist Tom Tomorrow. The agency itself has been rebuked by some of the same politicians who voted unanimously to create it a decade ago.

The surprise is that, beyond exempting flight attendants and pilots, the TSA has remained unyielding and impenitent. All Pistole would tell CBS News this week is that he’ll continue asking: “How can we be better informed if we modify our screening? Then, what are the risks that we deal with?” That’s Washington-ese for “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby.”

Photo by TSA

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Received & published by Henry Sapiecha