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BS in Computational Sciences - New Undergraduate Major for Fall 2008

BS in Computational Sciences - New Undergraduate Major for Fall 2008

In the fall of 2008, NJIT will offer a degree called Computational Sciences.  The degree will appeal to high school students who want to use high performance computing to solve scientific experiments -- experiments that are revolutionizing science.  Students who major in Computational Sciences can also specialize in math, biology, chemistry or physics. In the below interview, Math Professor Michael Siegel discuses the new degree program.

Siegel is also the Associate Director of the Center for Applied Mathematics & Statistics.  His research is focused on the analysis and numerical computation of moving boundary problems that arise in fluid mechanics, materials science, and physiology.

Computational Science is a new field. Can you explain it?

Computational Science uses sophisticated computational techniques, chiefly numerical math and advanced digital computers, to solve problems in the natural sciences and engineering, economics and finance. Along with knowing high-performance computing, a computational scientist works with scientists, engineers and others who need numerical solutions for large computational problems.

What will students learn?

Students who major in Computational Sciences will learn a number of exciting subjects. The major will emphasize numerical and high-performance computing, mathematical modeling and scientific computation. They’ll learn programming as well as the math needed to design numerical algorithms. They’ll learn high-performance numerical methods, computing hardware and mathematical models.

Can you discuss the curriculum?

In the first two years of the major, students will take classes similar to students majoring in science and engineering. These students might one day work with scientists and engineers, so they must understand those areas. But starting their junior year, students will study the problems that commonly confront computational scientists, and develop the numerical techniques needed to solve them. In their senior year, students will continue to develop their computing skills and must use those skills to complete a major project in computational science.  Overall, they’ll learn how to apply advanced numerical algorithms to problems in the sciences and engineering. They’ll also design and analyze new algorithms. There’ll be a number of electives to allow students to tailor the program to their interests.

Is there a strong demand for computational scientists?

Our major industries -- finance firms on Wall Street, pharmaceutical firms and telecommunications companies – all increasingly need and depend upon computational scientists. That is why NJIT decided to offer the degree. And for students who prefer academic research, this degree will prepare them for graduate study in applied math, engineering, quantitative biology and physics. Various options allow students to pursue computational science in the context of different fields.

Can you discuss the four options that students who major in Computational Sciences can choose from?

Let's start with the Computational Biology Option.

This is an option for students who like biology but want to design the computing and math models that explain biological research. Recent advances in biology have revolutionized the sciences; think of the genome, DNA research, or recent experiments on the human brain. Biologists doing such research use computer simulations to observe millions of cells or neurons, and they use math models to interpret those simulations and all that data.  It’s a good concentration for pre-med students or students who want to do research. It’s also good for students who want to work in the pharmaceutical or other scientific industries. One of our graduate students, Nick Kintos, has done some great work in the field of computational biology.

What about the Computational Chemistry Option?

It’s for students who like chemistry but would like to use computing and math models to solve chemical experiments, some of which lead to major advances in the field. It’s a specialty widely used in the discovery of new drugs and in drug testing.  Computational chemists, for example, helped develop the AIDS drugs that have saved millions of lives. They help by developing the algorithms and computer programs that predict and interpret chemical reactions used in drug experiments.

Computational Physics Option?

It’s an option for students who excel in physics and computing, a combination that is extremely valuable and marketable. Students who graduate with this concentration can work in software development, or get jobs at companies such as Google and Facebook, which rely heavily mathematical modeling. Wall Street firms love to hire students who are computationally savvy and good at physics. Working at finance firms is the third most common career track for physics majors; and they will more desirable to Wall Street firms if they have computational skills.

And the Computational Mathematics Options?

This option is a combination of mathematical modeling and numerical simulations. Some math problems are so complicated, have so much data to explain, that they require computing to solve. The problems defy pencil and paper. Computational math is used in so many ways that you might not be aware of. When you hear the five day weather forecast, you might not realize that the report is based on math models and numerical simulation, which are used to study weather patterns. And Boeing’s new airplane, the 777, was designed by engineers using math models. Computational mathematicians use the language of math to interpret the meaning of science. Computing and math are a combination that is helping advance our culture in so many ways – scientifically, financially, technologically -- and students with this degree will be the ones to usher forth those advances.

Bachelor of Science in Computational Sciences (657 KB, pdf)

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)