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Computational Science: Science and Engineering go “The Sims”

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 5/19/2008

Mathematical models and numerical analysis combined with computing allow scientists and engineers to simulate scientific problems to develop better solutions.

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    Traditional methods of solving problems in science and engineering involve experimental methods that have been around for a while, as well as developing newer methods with the advent of better technology and sustainable power.  However, the next step in an increasingly integrated relationship between various fields is to approach these problems using Computational Science, which is an innovative field that integrates aspects of pure mathematics, computer science, science, and engineering. 

    Computational Science is a numerical approach to solving problems in science and engineering that can either be approached numerically or converted into a mathematical model for numerical analysis. The mathematical aspect of Computational Science sometimes imposes parameters or limitations on analyzing problems, which relies heavily on numerical analysis. Numerical analysis, the mathematical side of Computational Science, involves the study of algorithms and its relevance in mathematical problems. This combined approach of both computing and mathematics involves using computers to simulate a problem, or a possible solution to the problem, through mathematical models or analysis using numerical techniques that impose limitations or extrapolations on the problem. 

    The importance lies in the computer properly and accurately simulating problems (or sometimes scenarios) that involve heavy calculations which are performed by supercomputers or via distributed computing. The computational aspect is also dependent on specified software, applications, and programs that programmers develop in conjunction with scientists or engineers. Often, many scientists and engineers are proficient in programming in order to properly develop programs they use for their own research. This is because an intimate understanding of how the program must work, such as the interface, and the method of analysis must be suitable for a specific problem.   

    Computational Science is a step beyond in that it takes this numerical analysis and imposes on it, a scientific or engineering aspect that has a real life application on a global scale from diseases to natural disasters.