While it may have taken a few years, I finally have a computer that can work out how water will flow around a boat. Around about 1985 NASA were taking delivery of a nice shiny new Cray 2 super computer which they proudly showing off in this video:
NASA hoped their supercomputer could reduce the cost and time involved in prototyping by calculating the flow of air around in this case the space shuttle. And it was just the space shuttle, not the fuel tank and booster rockets, no computer in existence was capable of handling the complete shuttle geometry. I was in primary school, an inspired by something I saw on towards 2000 decided to see if I could get the families’ Commodore 64 computer to do something similar, needless to say it didn’t work, all I succeeded in doing was filling the 64kb memory with data and making it crash.
In 1994 my university lecturers were taking their students through classical theoretical hydrodynamics. The punchline of the course was that without some massive increase in available computing power, we would be unable to use what we have just learnt and solve the Naiver Stokes equations which, although they have been described in 1822, defied solution for anything other than the most primitive of cases.
At about the same time, our friends at NASA working on what happens in deep space when galaxies collide came up with a new type of computer. Their solution to not having access to the good supercomputer, raiding NASA’s petty cash tin and buying themselves sixteen 486 computers and linking them together with a network . Splitting the job across 16 computers was extremely effective and much modern scientific computing is now done with parallel computers linked together over a network. This architecture, the Beowulf cluster, was named for the hero of the epic Old English poem who had “thirty men’s heft of grasp in the gripe of his hand”
Today, the open source software descended from those original efforts is available as the open source computational fluid dynamics package, OpenFOAM. This powerful program is capable of solving the Naiver Stokes equations and computing the flow around an object like a boat with an invaluable level of detail for the design process. Unfortunately, a practical boat problem can take weeks to solve even on high spec late model computer. Like the deep space researchers, I need a supercomputer. In this case a Beowulf cluster designed for OpenFOAM.