The University of Leicester has been awarded £2 million in government funding to build a supercomputer capable of researching space in unprecedented detail and providing new insights into the history of the Universe.

The university said the new supercomputer, which will be commissioned over the summer, will allow astronomers to address some of the most challenging problems in physics and astronomy – such as What is dark matter? How do stars form? And why do galaxies always have black holes at their centres?

“We will now be able to carry out the largest and most detailed simulations of planets, stars and galaxies that have ever been performed and answer questions that we could not even have asked just a few years ago,” said Dr Mark Wilkinson from the Theoretical Astrophysics Group at the University of Leicester.

Leicester is one of four sites selected to host national high performance computing (HPC) facilities for theoretical astrophysics and particle physics research, as part of the Science & Technology Facilities Council's DiRAC project. Other supercomputers will be hosted in Cambridge, Durham and Edinburgh.

In total, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' (BIS) is investing £15 million in DiRAC. The funding will come out of the government's £158 million e-infrastructure budget, announced last year, which is intended to drive growth and innovation across a range of sectors.

Wilkinson told Techworld that the Leicester supercomputer, built using HP hardware, will be designed specifically for complex astrophysics. While most supercomputers share one cable between two cores, this one will have a dedicated cable for each core, providing “all-to-all connectivity” for greater communication.

The other DiRAC supercomputers will have different purposes. For example, the Cambridge and Durham machines are more suited to cosmology research, whereas the Edinburgh facility will specialise in particle physics.

“Anyone who wants to apply can choose the machine that is best suited to their needs,” said Wilkinson. “It will also be possible to transfer data between the different facilities if the need arises, so we can provide the best solution to all problems.”

The new supercomputer will be housed in the University of Leicester's existing data centre, which will be upgraded for the purpose. The university itself is funding the building work, and the Science & Technology Facilities Council is paying for the necessary power upgrades.

“Leicester has a well-established reputation at the forefront of theoretical astrophysics world-wide and this will secure our position as a major international research centre for computational astrophysics,” said Professor Andrew King, head of the Theoretical Astrophysics Group at the University of Leicester.

The government's e-infrastructure budget is also being used to fund the upgrade of a national supercomputing service for developing drugs and modelling climate change, known as ARCHER, as well as increased data storage and faster networks, according to BIS.