Real warp drives – can distributed computing help?

Some how, I blinked and discovered we're in mid-May. This is scary as I have some travel coming up, and need get some things out of the way. It's been a busy week (but heck, when isn't it) and part of the load is that I am on the Australian Research Council College and am ranking the current round of Future Fellowships; this is a lot of work, but is incredibly interesting, especially looking at the sheer excellence of research being undertaken in Australia. However, it's also completely confidential, and so I'm not going to talk about any details :)

However, I will say that this is the last round of Future Fellowships, removing the opportunity for mid-career researchers to focus on, well, research. This will leave a hole in research efforts in Australia.

Anyway, some stories never die, especially of it's about warp drives. A couple of years ago, my new PhD student, Brendan McMonigal, and I wrote a cool paper called "The Alcubierre warp drive: On the matter of matter". I've written about this before, but we showed that as the warp drive accelerates, it starts to gather up particles and radiation, and this is released in a burst as it decelerates, frying all your relatives who have come to meet you.

If you think you have seen Brendan recently, you're probably correct.

Anyway, we receive a steady stream of requests for comments on the paper, especially for inclusion in news stories. And here's another.
(picture taken from the article). The crux of the story is that we effectively did a 2 dimensional analysis of the warp drive, one in time and one in space, What we really want to do is do a full 4-dimensional analysis, one in time and three in space, to really understand what happens to light rays, especially those that come in obliquely. But this is computationally expensive, and we need to use big computers to do this.

The computational problem is that we need to follow the path of a particle in 4-D space-time, and to do this we use the Geodesic Equation. This looks like this
For those in the know, to integrate this, we have 8 coupled one-dimensional equations, and we have to follow the path of each particle and each bit of light. But this is a "stupidly parallel" problem - each particle and light beam is independent and so we can calculate on on one machine, and one on another machine, and pull all the results together at the end.

Anyway, you can read more about this in the article. But the point I want to make is the catch-cry of rating modern science is impact. One form of impact is easy to measure - it is citations to your work by other scientists. The harder one to quantify is "societal impact", and that is the broader impact your results have (things like science appearing in the press, or leading to a technological spin-off etc).

This is why I am happy that this story happily keeps bumbling along, with each new article highlighting our work and the science being done at the University of Sydney. It might not change the world, but at it is, at least, blooming interesting :)

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