UH Joins International Project to Develop History-Making Software for Scientists

University of Houston Researchers Contributing to MUSES Collaboration in Physics, Computer Science

Artist’s image of neutron stars colliding. Image courtesy of Getty Images.
Photo courtesy: Getty Images. The MUSES collaboration—for Modular Unified Solver of the Equation of State—will develop an important scientific tool for investigators in nuclear physics, gravitational wave astrophysics and heavy-ion physics. This project joins the UH team with researchers from Kent State University and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, as well as scientists around the world.
Photograph of Claudia Ratti, associate professor of physics at the University of Houston
Claudia Ratti, associate professor of physics in the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, is a co-principal investigator for the MUSES collaboration. She also serves as spokesperson for the research team.

The National Science Foundation announced a $4.4 million, five-year grant on Sept. 16 for the MUSES collaboration, a major international initiative to develop an open-source cyberinfrastructure tool that will determine equations of state for investigators in nuclear physics, gravitational wave astrophysics and heavy-ion physics.

Three institutions, including the University of Houston, are represented among the leadership of the project. MUSES, or Modular Unified Solver of the Equation of State, was formed to produce a vital tool that will serve researchers for generations to come.

“It is primarily a software tool, but it is much more than that. It is really a ‘solver’ that can adapt as needs evolve. Its structure will invite scientists of the future to add modules to the core we create. In that way, our work will always be updated, always modified with fresh information and always in step with progress as scientific research moves forward,” said Claudia Ratti, UH associate professor of physics and the research team’s spokesperson.

As one of five principal investigators, Ratti joins Veronica Dexheimer of Kent State University, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Nicolás Yunes (lead principal investigator), Jacquelyn Noronha-Hostler and Jorge Noronha.

The MUSES collaboration comprises an interdisciplinary team of researchers specializing in lattice QCD, nuclear physics, gravitational waves, relativistic hydrodynamics and computer science from at least 16 institutions around the world. The project’s programming and front-end development will be done at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Ratti’s team at the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics will focus on equations of state at high temperatures and low-to-intermediate densities. Their work will establish the first-principle basis for building high-density equations of state, which are needed for neutron star physics. The UH portion of the National Science Foundation grant is $551,555 over the project’s five-year span.

The cyberinfrastructure of MUSES will allow users to create equations of state in real time and target their focus according to specific nuclear physics parameters. An equation of state is a thermodynamic equation that identifies the properties of matter – such as temperature, pressure and density – and can describe how those properties react as matter changes from one state to another.

Being a set of relationships, an equation of state also can guide scientists in inferring information about conditions that exist but cannot be seen.

By knowing a neutron star’s equation of state, researchers can determine what type of particles are contained within the star’s core and how those particles interact. They can calculate what temperatures are reached when two neutron stars collide, for example, or gain insight into what nuclear experiments with heavy-ion collisions can reveal about the strongest force in nature.

“Future users of MUSES can choose which models best serve their specific scientific needs – which temperature, what density, whether the equation of state is for stars or for heavy ion collisions – so that each user can customize the inputs each time they run the code,” Ratti explained.

Although computation models exist for distinct aspects of various fields of research, there currently is no single tool accessible to all researchers and relevant across a broad range of science.

The post-graduate researchers and graduate students on the project will gain experience across a variety of subfields as they contribute to the development of the MUSES core software.

“To be a scientist nowadays, you cannot focus on just one thing. You need to be aware of the fields surrounding your own specialty. You need to have computational skills and, of course, presentation skills. On this team, post-doctoral researchers and students will have the advantage of working closely with world-famous physicists and computer scientists. They will have the special experience making presentations at conferences and other gatherings of our peers. I cannot think of any way to start a new career in science on a better footing,” Ratti said.

Research for the MUSES project will begin this fall. The grant is part of National Science Foundation’s Cyberinfrastructure for Sustained Scientific Innovation program.