Public Release: 

Inside the most capable simulation facility in the world

DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., August 2002 -- It's termed the most capable simulation facility in the world. The newly constructed 303,000-square-foot, $93 million Nicholas C. Metropolis Center for Modeling and Simulation was built to house "Q," one of the world's largest and most capable computers (initially 30 teraOps, or 30 trillion floating point operations per second).

Home to about 300 nuclear weapons designers, computer scientists, engineers and other researchers, the center extends the cutting edge of simulation and modeling development in support of nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship. Available for this work are 306 furnished work spaces, several conference rooms, visualization theaters, classrooms, break areas and collaboration laboratories.

The center is an integrated part of the National Nuclear Security Administration's trib-lab (Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia) mission to maintain, monitor and assure the performance of the nation's nuclear weapons through the Advanced Simulation and Computing program.

Seeing the data

The enormous calculations that researchers run on the Q machine require new methods of understanding and seeing the data generated. The Metropolis Center's visualization environment consists of two immersive visualization theaters that represent the best available capability for data viewing and analysis, along with a 200-seat auditorium. A secure power-wall theater provides high-resolution interleaved displays that fill a wall with the latest projection technology, together with conference capability, multiple display monitors, and electronic white boards to promote effective teaming and collaborative discussion.

Five "collaboratories" supply a third simulation environment to promote collaborations among weapons code development teams who integrate experiments in materials science, physics and computer science. The collaboratories provide users with an informal, information- and technology-rich environment with systems for simulation development, collaboration, discussion, media development, presentation and problem analysis.

Power and room to grow

The facility infrastructure is designed to be scalable, with mechanical and electrical equipment installed to support up to 30 teraOps. The present computer room is 43,500 sqare feet and unobstructed. As requirements go beyond the 30-teraOps capability, mechanical and electrical equipment - including chiller, cooling towers, air-conditioning units, substations, power conditioners and transformers - can be added in increments without expanding the building. Scalability provides a cost-effective option of waiting to install additional support equipment until it is needed and the ability to capitalize on technological advances in computing technology, as well as in the support equipment.

Fed by two different 13.2 kV underground power sources, the facility is configured with double-ended switch gear and unit substations to allow switching for maintenance and fauilt isolation. Power conditioners, transformers and distribution equipment are rated for the high harmonics generated by the computer.

A grounding ring surrounds the building in addition to a signal reference grid in the computer room to reduce electrical noise. A lightning-protection system is incorporated into the facility. A fire-detection system monitors the entire building, together with a highly sensitive smoke-detection system under the raised computer floor. Communication lines service the facility through an underground duct-bank system, utilizing fiber optic cable for both secure and open systems. Copper lines are used for the voice communication system.

Mechanical systems also are designed for maximum flexibility. The computer room cooling system can be adapted for air-cooled computers, water-cooled computers or a combination. The simulation laboratory spaces are heated, cooled and ventilated with modular, variable-volume air handling units, with separate air handling systems for classified and unclassified areas.

Cooling tower heat exchangers meet cooling requirements without running chillers during winter and cooler months, providing energy conservation.


Los Alamos National Laboratory is operated by the University of California for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the U.S. Department of Energy and works in partnership with NNSA's Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories to support NNSA in its mission.

Los Alamos enhances global security by ensuring safety and confidence in the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction and improving the environmental and nuclear materials legacy of the cold war. Los Alamos' capabilities assist the nation in addressing energy, environment, infrastructure and biological security problems.

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