By Dr. Lora Ramunno
The study of the interaction between light and matter on the nanoscale (a nanometre is about one billionth of a metre) is revolutionizing many areas of science and technology. Powerful applications can be designed, for example, to capture real time images of live cells, tissues and biological processes or to help manufacture extremely small devices that can be used in diverse areas including telecommunications, computation and biotechnology.
These applications hold the potential to significantly improve early detection of disease or provide a better understanding of biological processes at a cellular level, as well as to identify hidden insights that can help companies move into newer and smarter manufacturing in the high technology market.
Through our research project at the University of Ottawa, which is graciously supported by the Southern Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Platform (SOSCIP), we hope to take this technology to the next level. Our team will be capitalizing on the power of Canada’s most powerful computing platform, the Blue Gene/Q, created by IBM and housed at the University of Toronto.
As someone who studies how light interacts with matter on an incredibly small scale, I need power! That is high performance computing power. And, since we study very complex and extremely small nanoscale systems, our applications require a much larger area to simulate their interaction with light. This creates large simulations that generate Big Data — large data sets that must then be analyzed to extract useful scientific information.
The ability to create models of this type of device has been limited by the amount of computer power and the software available until now. My group, in collaboration with University Research Chair in Surface Plasmon Photonics, Pierre Berini, has developed a powerful nanophotonics computational software suite with many capabilities not found in commercial software. The Blue Gene/Q will allow us to apply our computational programs, which can carry out the intensive Big Data calculations that are critical to simulating nanoscale imaging and nanophotonic device applications.
This powerful imaging technology will be useful in healthcare where access to detailed images — say of live cells and tissues — can help understand biological processes underlying disease and lead to better treatments.
The SOSCIP is a consortium made up of IBM, the government of Ontario and seven Ontario universities, including University of Ottawa, whose objective is to make a combination of high performance computing devices available to academia and industry for research and development. IBM and the government of Ontario are investing $210 million to fund facilities for high performance, agile and cloud computing.
Through SOSCIP, the Ontario government wants to improve the province’s competitive advantage in key areas, including infrastructure, health, agile computing, water conservation and management, and energy consumption and management.