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Aspen Award Ceremony 2024 – Supercomputing as a strategic resource 

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  • 18 June 2024

        The Aspen Institute Italia Award for scientific research and collaboration between Italy and the United States, now in its ninth edition, was awarded to seven scientists: Giacomo Falcucci, “Mario Lucertini” Department of Enterprise Engineering, University of Rome at “Tor Vergata”; Department of Physics, Harvard University; Maurizio Porfiri, Department of Biomedical Engineering; Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Center for Urban Science and Progress, Tandon School of Engineering, New York University; Sauro Succi, Center for the Life Nano- and Neuro Science, Italian Institute of Technology, Rome; Department of Physics, Harvard University; “Mauro Picone” Institute for Applied Mathematics (IAC), CNR Rome; Giorgio Amati, High Performance Computing Department, CINECA, Rome; Pierluigi Fanelli, Department of Economics, Engineering, Society and Business Organization (DEIM), University of the Tuscia, Viterbo; Vesselin K. Krastev, “Mario Lucertini” Department of Enterprise Engineering, University of Rome at “Tor Vergata”; Giovanni Polverino, Centre for Evolutionary Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Western Australia, Perth. 

        The 2024 Aspen Institute Italia Award for Scientific Research and Cooperation between Italy and the United States was awarded to a multidisciplinary study in the vanguard of physics, biology, IT and engineering based on super simulations of hydrodynamic flows capable of revealing the skeletal adaptations of the deep-sea sponge known as the Euplectella Aspergillum or Venus Flower Basket. 

        The study was the first ever to investigate how these marine organisms are able to utilize surrounding fluids as a resource rather than having to combat them as an adverse factor. Such a paradigm lends itself to the consideration of new engineering applications that draw upon the surrounding environment, such as skyscrapers designed to benefit from wind rather than trying to counter it as a negative force; or ships’ keels modeled on the structure of the Euplectella Aspergillum and its interaction with water, with a view to boosting the sustainability of sea transport.

        The study also shows the growing importance of super simulations from the standpoint of science and industry. The winning researchers used the Marconi 100 supercomputer at Bologna’s CINECA, which at the time of the study ranked fourth in the world. This is an example of Italian excellence that reflects the importance of building computational infrastructures at the service of universities, research institutes and industry.

        Moreover, super simulations are already facilitating studies that would otherwise be too costly and complex. These might also be useful for finding concrete applications in a range of industrial sectors; suffice it to think of the automotive industry, where vehicles are increasingly using digital technology, while physical wind tunnels are gradually being replaced by simulators.

        The winners
        Panel debate – Supercomputing as a strategic resource
        Panel debate – Supercomputing as a strategic resource
        Panel debate – Supercomputing as a strategic resource
        Panel debate – Supercomputing as a strategic resource
        Panel debate – Supercomputing as a strategic resource
        Panel debate – Supercomputing as a strategic resource

        Super simulation is a challenge that no country can fail to accept if it intends to remain competitive. In this respect, Europe lags behind compared with other parts of the world, while the United States and China excel in pivotal technologies of the future such as quantum computing. 

        Nevertheless, in a world destined to turn on data centers, various factors contribute to competitiveness, starting with sustainability. Indeed, super computers are destined to consume more and more energy, not least in function of the expanding needs of Generative Artificial Intelligence and its Large Language Models (LLM). It is estimated that within 2030, 8% of the energy consumed in the US will be for this purpose – an amount equal to nearly 1000 terawatt hours and comparable to the entire energy needs of an advanced economy such as Germany’s.

        Italy has a distinct advantage in key sectors such as energy efficiency and must make effective use of it. Essential to that end are public policies aimed at optimizing excellences without wasting funds (starting with those of the PNRR) and creating infrastructures that are truly at the service of the territory. Equally essential is a cultural change capable of spurring companies to compete and invest in human capital, using all the new technologies available – including simulation centers – to participate in the digital transition.