Ask the average student on the university campus to explain what Computational Science is and you will probably receive a distant glassy-eyed stare followed by some incoherent mumblings involving the word ‘computers’. Most people would probably not rank it highly in the league table of sexy-sounding disciplines.
Computational Science is a rapidly growing interdisciplinary field of study that uses advanced computing and data analysis to understand and solve complex systems and processes.
Ask the aforementioned average student this question and their eyes may show increasing signs of ennui followed by further hushed mumbling about ‘tax forms’ and ‘amorous relationships’.
Complex systems, however, refer to a wide range of things from the way that molecules in a cell work together to keep the cell alive, to the way terrorists interact and function within terrorist networks.
Computational Science seeks to elucidate the complex world we live in, in which myriad small components combine to affect large macroscopic processes. By collecting data and creating computer models, computational scientists can make predictions on varying problems such as how to influence the flow of traffic, how an epidemic will spread or the likelihood of individuals in society becoming addicted to drugs.
Peter Sloot, professor of Computational Science at the University of Amsterdam, is at the forefront of this groundbreaking new discipline. In addition to his academic post, Prof. Sloot also heads the world-renowned EU-funded Virolab project, which is developing computer models to help combat HIV and AIDS. In 2010, he also received the ‘Leading Scientist’ president award (worth 3.6 million euros) from the Russian Federation to further expand on his innovative research and was appointed professor of Advanced Computing at St Petersburg University. In addition, he is professor of Complex Systems at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore for three months per year.
In this interview, Prof. Sloot talks about the brave new world of Computational Science and its ability to unravel the secrets of life, the universe (and making great coffee).