In an interview, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign National Center for Supercomputing Application director Thom Dunning discussed the potential for using computational simulation to transform scientific and engineering education in the same manner in which it has revolutionized research. "The potential of using these technologies to teach students the fundamental principles of a subject through authentic computational simulation is largely unexplored," Dunning says. For example, chemistry students could use computational simulations to simply manipulate a molecule on a computer screen or to perform advanced tasks such as computing a molecule's vibrational spectra and connecting that to global warming.
One of the key challenges in science is that "many of the fundamental, underlying concepts from continental drift to the inner workings of the universe aren't easily visualized," says Dunning, noting that simulations make such visualization possible. He says a growing number of scientific communities need high-performance computing (HPC) due to increasingly complex models and ever-growing volumes of data, and interest in HPC will rise in the coming decade.
Dunning's goal is "to really get the folks in HPC interested in talking to their colleagues in science and engineering," especially on the teaching side. Dunning says there is significant interest in introducing computational simulation into the undergraduate classrooms, but a partnership is needed between the HPC community and school faculty to make that a reality.
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