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VIRTUAL REALITY: Applications for Grand Challenges

Grand Challenge research is employing high-performance computing and communications to build more energy-efficient cars and airplane, to design better drugs, to improve military surveillance systems and environmental monitoring, to create new materials. The 34 Grand Challenge projects now underway range from explorations of molecules to studies on the origins of galaxies.


One of the largest, 3-dimensional simulations of the universe is helping scientists refine theories about the origins of galaxies. By digitally altering the mix of stellar gas, ordinary matter, and dark matter created soon after the Big Bang, cosmologists are searching for the correct formula for replicating the universe as it exists. Knowing how the structures we see today emerged from the fireball of creation will reveal much about the future of the cosmos.

Material sciences

Researchers are modeling the more than 400 different hydrogen-nitrogen chemical reactions in an internal combustion engine to design cooler, more efficient car engines. Other researchers are analyzing the properties of compounds in a race to discover the next generation of superconducting material. The winner will revolutionize power transmission and transportation.

Molecular biosciences

VR models of some of life's smallest structures are helping scientists decipher the precise mechanisms through which proteins communicate with each other, for instance, to bind antibody to antigen or signal a cell membrane to dilate. Knowledge of this kind is speeding the development of biological and industrial catalysts as well as therapeutic drugs.


By simulating the gravitational ripples that would be generated if two black holes collided, researchers hope to confirm the existence of these elusive objects predicted as a consequence of Einstein's famous General Theory of Relativity. Should the simulated ripples precisely match gravitational waves detected by LIGO,an array of sensing devices that will become operational in 2000, not only could the existence of black holes be confirmed but also Einstein's 80-year-old theory finally will be vindicated.

Weather forecasting

When Hurricane Emily approached the Atlantic coast in 1993, a new hurricane model accurately predicted 48 hours in advance that the hurricane would turn sharply back out to sea off Cape Hatteras without making landfall. Predicting long-term weather patterns is one of the outcomes of the new monitoring and instrumentation tools being developed at part of the HPCC.

Atmospheric scientists are also turning to advanced computing tools and virtual environments like the CAVE to calculate the behavior of more local disturbances, particularly thunderstorms that spawn tornados.

National Challenge Applications

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NCSA & EVL. Last modified 9/28/95