New £10m supercomputer launches to help scientists reveal secrets of the Universe


A new supercomputer with the processing power and memory of 17,000 home PCs has been launched to help scientists around the world investigate the mysteries of the Universe.

The Cosmology Machine 8 (COSMA 8), hosted by Durham University, was officially opened today (Friday 13 October) by Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Minister for Science, Research and Innovation.

COSMA 8 will be used by scientists to develop and test theories about the origin of our universe, dark matter, dark energy, the formation of galaxies, gravitational waves, the evolution of stars and the origin of planets.

The supercomputer has received £10 million in funding primarily from UK Research and Innovation via the ‘World Class Laboratories’ and ‘Digital Research Infrastructure’ initiatives. Funding is adminstered by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). 

The Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University hosts the supercomputer on behalf of the UK’s DiRAC High-Performance Computing facility.

COSMA 8 consists of 67,584 individual processors working together to produce high-powered simulations of the Universe.

With half a Petabyte of memory, it is the largest supercomputer dedicated to academic research in England and is used by researchers across the globe.

COSMA 8 is poised to be a valuable research tool for a wide range of scientific institutes with access available to anyone carrying out research within the STFC remit via open competitive peer review. 

Cosmologists will use the machine to simulate the evolution of the entire Universe, from the Big Bang to the present and, in the process, shed light on the mysteries of the dark energy and the dark matter.

Dark energy is behind the accelerating expansion of the Universe, while dark matter makes up the structural backbone — not visible through telescopes — upon which galaxies eventually form.

Professor Carlos Frenk, Ogden Professor of Fundamental Physics, in the Institute for Computational Cosmology, at Durham University, said: “Durham and our research partners around the world are at the forefront of research into some of the most fascinating and fundamental questions in modern science including the search for the identity of dark matter, the nature of dark energy and the origin of galaxies.”

“Supercomputers, programmed by us to solve the relevant equations of physics, allow us to recreate the entire history of the Universe. As computational power increases, so does our ability to understand in greater and greater detail how the Universe came to be, why it looks as it does today and what its ultimate fate might be.

“COSMA 8 will allow us to go even further in addressing these fascinating questions that lie at the very heart of understanding our place in the Universe.”

Dated: 13/10/2023 Durham University Super Computer is launched. One of the UK’s most powerful Supercomputers is launched by Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation Chi Onwurah, Unveiled a Plaque, at the opening ceremony of the Cosma 8 Supercomputer which is housed at the Durham University Physics faculty. with Prof Carlos Frenk Director of the University of Durham Institute for Computational Cosmology

Chi Onwurah, who is also the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, unveiled a plaque and pressed a button on COSMA 8 to launch one of the largest simulations of the Universe ever attempted to mark the supercomputer’s official opening. The simulation will continue to run for several days after the event.

Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Science, Research, and Innovation said: “It was a privilege to launch the new Cosmology Machine supercomputer here in Durham. Adding to our scientific strength in the North East, COSMA 8 will help scientists in Britain and around the world explore profound questions about the Universe.”

COSMA’s current computational power is the force behind some of the world’s leading cosmology research projects including the international Virgo Consortium for Cosmological Supercomputer Simulations.

A simulation from the EAGLE Project showing a slice through a cosmological simulation of a region approximately 300 million light years across. The white dots show virtual galaxies and the colours cosmic gas at different temperatures. The simulation was performed using a previous generation of COSMA. COSMA 8 will allow scientists to simulate the evolution of the Universe in even more precise detail. Credit: The EAGLE Project/ The Virgo Consortium for Cosmological Supercomputer Simulations.

VIRGO’s research includes the EAGLE project simulation in which realistic galaxies – with an uncanny resemblance to those observed in the Universe – were created in a computer simply by solving the equations of physics.

COSMA has supported the work of the Durham Data Intensive Science Centre for Doctoral Training connecting academic research with industry.

Professor Grahame Blair, STFC Executive Director, Programmes, said: “It is an exciting time for computing, with constant innovation and new developments in areas such as AI, quantum, and high-performance systems.”

“In order for these technological advances to yield new insights into the world around us though, they must be made available to the research community to help address fundamental questions such as the origin of our Universe.

“Through initiatives such as COSMA 8, STFC is equipping UK scientists with the advanced processing power necessary to develop and test new, cutting-edge theories in crucial fields such as cosmology.” 

The DiRAC Facility director, Professor Mark Wilkinson from the University of Leicester, said: “The opening of COSMA 8 is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the great strength of the UK’s computational science communities. This on-time, in-budget deployment of a new DiRAC HPC service is the culmination of a complex co-design process and confirms Durham’s important role in the UK’s Digital Research Infrastructure as we plan for the even more powerful computer systems of the future.”

Durham University’s Department of Physics, which is home to the University’s cosmologists and astronomers, is ranked 2nd in the UK in The Guardian University Guide 2024 and in the World Top 100 in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2023.

Professor Frenk, along with Professor Adrian Jenkins and Professor Tom Theuns, of Durham University’s Institute for ComputationalCosmology, are among the most cited researchers in the world according to the Clarivate Highly Cited Researchers 2022.