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"Most of the computer-simulated crashes you see in movies or on TV are not realistic from the point of view of physics," said Voicu Popescu, an assistant professor of computer science. "They are designed to be spectacular rather than realistic. What hasn't been done much, or, to our knowledge hasn't been done at all, is to create a visualization that looks realistic in the sense that you would recognize the Pentagon and the plane and is, at the same time, true to physics."
The mesh of finite elements in the model require that millions of calculations be solved for every second of simulation. Creating only one-tenth of a second of simulation took about 95 hours of computation time on a supercomputer. Researchers originally used a bank of computers and also worked closely with Information Technology at Purdue (ItaP) to harness IBM supercomputers at Purdue and Indiana University.
"The majority of the work had to do with producing the right models and then setting up the particular mesh so that we could work out accurately how this scenario unfolded," Hoffmann said.
In the simulation, the plane crashes into the building's concrete support columns, which were reinforced with steel bars. In this simulation the columns were assumed to be "spirally reinforced," a technique popular in the 1940s in which steel bars were wound around columns in a helical shape. The coiled steel provided added strength to the columns and probably is responsible for saving many lives, Sozen said.