Ray-traced Radiative Transfer on Massively Threaded Architectures

Samuel Paul Thomson
The University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh, 2018


   title={Ray-traced radiative transfer on massively threaded architectures},

   author={Thomson, Samuel Paul},


   publisher={The University of Edinburgh}


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In this thesis, I apply techniques from the field of computer graphics to ray tracing in astrophysical simulations, and introduce the GRACE software library. This is combined with an extant radiative transfer solver to produce a new package, TARANIS. It allows for fully-parallel particle updates via per-particle accumulation of rates, followed by a forward Euler integration step, and is manifestly photon-conserving. To my knowledge, TARANIS is the first ray-traced radiative transfer code to run on graphics processing units and target cosmological-scale smooth particle hydrodynamics (SPH) datasets. A significant optimization effort is undertaken in developing GRACE. Contrary to typical results in computer graphics, it is found that the bounding volume hierarchies (BVHs) used to accelerate the ray tracing procedure need not be of high quality; as a result, extremely fast BVH construction times are possible (< 0.02 microseconds per particle in an SPH dataset). I show that this exceeds the performance researchers might expect from CPU codes by at least an order of magnitude, and compares favourably to a state-of-the-art ray tracing solution. Similar results are found for the ray-tracing itself, where again techniques from computer graphics are examined for effectiveness with SPH datasets, and new optimizations proposed. For high per-source ray counts (>= 10^4), GRACE can reduce ray tracing run times by up to two orders of magnitude compared to extant CPU solutions developed within the astrophysics community, and by a factor of a few compared to a state-of-the-art solution. TARANIS is shown to produce expected results in a suite of de facto cosmological radiative transfer tests cases. For some cases, it currently out-performs a serial, CPUbased alternative by a factor of a few. Unfortunately, for the most realistic test its performance is extremely poor, making the current TARANIS code unsuitable for cosmological radiative transfer. The primary reason for this failing is found to be a small minority of particles which always dominate the timestep criteria. Several plausible routes to mitigate this problem, while retaining parallelism, are put forward.
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