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Computational science: New program joins national research


Dr. Martine Ceberio
Dr. Martine Ceberio
 
"It's applied math, applying different types of optimization and using parallel computing."

-Uram A. Sosa, doctoral student in computational science

"(In computational science) you make large-scale simulations to tackle complex problems."

-Leticia Velazquez, director of the computational science program.

The 21st century ushered in an age of serious problems such as climate change, population growth and nuclear proliferation that required massive amounts of data. To model the problems, high-performance computing comes into play.

Eight years in the making, the new computational science program that launched at UTEP this fall teaches students how to apply math, build algorithms and use super-computing tools to solve different kinds of problems.

The computational science program sprang from a need for more interdisciplinary skills from students, said Martine Ceberio, assistant professor in computer science. The program offers a master's degree and a Ph.D. and currently works with 10 different departments from the College of Science and the College of Engineering, including mathematical sciences, physics, electrical engineering and computer engineering.

"We need those different flavors," Ceberio said.

Computational science should not be confused with computer science, though the fields overlap.

Leticia Velazquez, assistant professor of mathematical sciences and director of the program, said students in computational science don't concentrate on the hardware, but use parts of the machine for simulations. The simulations may include problems that are more practical when modeled on a computer, such as nuclear explosions, in order to see what would happen afterward.

Simulation is considered the third pillar of science, said Velazquez, with hand calculations and experimentation of the other two, respectively.

"In the traditional way, you go write a paper, or go to lab, do research," Velazquez said. "(In computational science) you make large-scale simulations to tackle complex problems."

Only elite institutions in Texas like UT Austin and the University of Houston, carry the program. In the Southwest region, UTEP is the only one of its kind.

"We want to be nationally recognized, for faculty as well as students," Velazquez said.

Part of that recognition may also come from projects. Some of the faculty are working with oil companies, for example.

Other projects include the NSF-funded Cyber-ShARE, the Center of Excellence for Sharing Resources for the Advancement of Research and Education, which involves faculty from environmental science, math, geology and computer science. Cyber-ShARE's focus is a study of the earth's subsurface in order to determine, among other things, probabilities of earthquakes.

Another project that is in the works is the Army High Performance Computing Research Center. The AHPCRC, a $200-million dollar project, will involve collaboration among New Mexico State University, Stanford, Morgan State and UTEP. Computer science professor Patricia Teller will head the multi-million dollar program.

"It's a consortium, but the physical center will be at Stanford," Velazquez said.

Part of the research will entail simulating airflow in airplanes.

As far as career opportunities, research corporations and academic labs are possibilities, including IBM, CERN and pharmaceutical companies. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, houses the Large Hadron Collider, which is the world's largest particle accelerator investigating the most mysterious parts of the universe.

For Uram Anibal Sosa, a doctoral student, it's important to like math.

It's applied math, applying different types of optimization and using parallel computing," Sosa said. "You use both arms."

The computational science program hopes to enroll five students every semester, with six currently enrolled, four doctoral and two master's. In the first year, the program funds the students, and in the second, the student is funded through grants. A bachelor's degree in science, math or engineering is required for admission, with doctoral candidates given priority. Knowledge of a high-level programming language is also a plus.

The program hopes to grow by attracting more students from different fields.

"There is the research to back it up," Ceberio said.

Velazquez said that in the long-term, a bachelor's program is planned.

"We want to create a pipeline of students and impact the educational programs," Velazquez said.

In the meantime, the promising program seeks to leap boundaries, academic or otherwise.

For more information about the program, contact Leticia Velazquez at leti@utep.edu.

Jorge Gomez may be reached at prospector@utep.edu.

– Jorge Gomez

The Prospector. Citing Internet Resources. [Online] Available, September 30, 2008.