Engineering 101

Emulate Complex Calculations at Lightning Speed

Complex calculations that could take up to 20 years on a powerful desktop computer are now accomplished in a mere hour on a regular laptop using a new method to calculate atomic nuclei properties incredibly quickly.

Physicist Andreas Ekström at Chalmers University of Technology, together with international research colleagues, has designed a new approach based on emulation, whereby an approximate calculation replaces a complete and more complex calculation. The shortcut surprisingly ends up with almost exactly the same solution. The method ushers in more possibilities in fundamental research in such areas as nuclear physics.

The emulation solution enables scientists to construct and analyze theoretical descriptions of the forces between protons and neutrons inside the atomic nucleus. Most of the atomic mass resides in the center of the atom, in a dense region called the atomic nucleus. The protons and neutrons are held together by something called the strong force—and how this works has eluded everyone to date.

The research of Andreas Ekström and his colleagues sheds new light on topics ranging from neutron stars and their properties to the innermost structure and decay of nuclei. Research in nuclear physics also provides essential input to astrophysics, atomic physics, and particle physics.

The new calculation method is based on eigenvector continuation (EVC), which allows for the emulation of many quantum mechanical properties of atomic nuclei with incredible speed and accuracy. Instead of directly solving the time-consuming and complex many-body problem continuously, researchers have a mathematical shortcut, using a transformation into a special subspace so that it possible to use a few exact solutions to then obtain approximate solutions much faster.

Similar to machine learning, it is not a neural network or a Gaussian process. The EVC method for emulation is not limited to atomic nuclei, and researchers are currently looking into different types of applications.

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