Computational Science and Engineering
at UC Davis
Final Report of the Committee on
Computational Science and Engineering
Joel E. Keizer, Institute of Theoretical Dynamics
Acting Committee Chair:
Bernd Hamann, Ctr. for Image Processing & Integrated Computing
Other Committee Members:
Harry A. Dwyer, Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering
Daniel Gusfield, Computer Science
Alan M. Hastings, Environmental Science and Policy
Winston Ko, Physics
C. William McCurdy, Jr., Lawrence Berkeley Lab., Applied Science
David M. Rocke, Graduate School of Management
William P. Thurston, Mathematics
June 10, 1999
This Report concerns the future of computational
science and engineering (CS&E) at the University of California,
CS&E is a rapidly developing area with particularly
strong connections to the sciences, engineering,
and mathematics. CS&E is concerned with the development
of computational models as an alternative way to help understand complex
physical and biological processes--or to model entirely
abstract processes, encountered in mathematics and computer science.
CS&E involves diverse areas such as Monte Carlo simulations of random
processes; algorithm development for the analysis of massive and
multidimensional data sets; numerical algorithms for the
solution of differential equations characterizing a wide variety of
physical phenomena; development of methods for the analysis of biomedical
diagnostics; computational molecular biology;
visualization and virtual reality rendering
for the study of large and complicated three-dimensional structures;
digital image analysis, compression, and transmission; and
computational techniques in relation to the study of
discrete mathematics, including cryptography and combinatorics.
A significant portion of UC Davis faculty and researchers
is actively involved in a variety of CS&E fields and the development of
algorithms and methods for solving large-scale problems impacting the
future of the research process and teaching in science and engineering.
It should be the
objective of this Initiative to create an environment at UC Davis that
will enable world-class education and research in CS&E.
The Committee is convinced that CS&E will play an important if not
a dominating role for the future of the scientific discovery process
and engineering design. We provide three examples:
These examples do not represent the Committee's ``priority
areas'' for CS&E, but they demonstrate that computation is becoming
a key element in diverse fields.
While most UC Davis disciplines that would greatly benefit from
computation are not yet fully utilizing its power, we believe
that the teaching and research components of this Initiative will help
craft the kind of computation-oriented environment that will allow our
university to remain competitive and become a national leader in CS&E
in the next century. It is obvious that computational methods are
a key component of the modern research process
throughout the science and engineering fields.
To be competitive as a research university in the
century, UC Davis will have to make
significant investments in its computational infrastructure enabling
efficient research on large-scale problems. The research aspect of
this Initiative is to be viewed as at least as important as the
The teaching, development, study, and application of
computational methods is already crucial for a large
variety of disciplines at UC Davis. To ensure the
competitiveness of UC Davis in science and engineering education
and research UC Davis must substantially strengthen and focus its
efforts concerning CS&E in the coming years.
The main objective of the CS&E Initiative must
be the creation of an educational and research environment
that is both attractive and accessible to
current faculty, and faculty to be hired. Linking this objective to
the established and highly visible programs of UC Davis in the sciences
and engineering should allow a maximum degree of leverage through
potential joint appointments for new faculty hires.
One must be careful not to confuse CS&E with the established discipline
of computer science, with its focus on the organization, design,
analysis, theory, programming, and application of digital computers and
Nonetheless, the rapid growth of CS&E has been triggered by key hardware
and software developments in computer science and engineering.
It will be crucial for the success of the CS&E Initiative to foster a strong
relationship with the Computer Science Department as well.
Computer Science will play a significant role in the basic preparation
of both graduate and undergraduate students minoring or specializing in CS&E.
Moreover, the Computer Science Department already has a dedicated
sub-group of faculty working on CS&E problems (e.g.,
visualization/computer graphics, computational biology,
medical informatics, database/information systems,
combinatorial optimization, cryptography, and other fields)
and thus would be a natural home for several of the FTEs or joint
CS&E appointments resulting from the Initiative.
National needs in the areas of numerical simulation, data
exploration, and large-scale high-bandwidth communication
have led to the creation of the so-called Accelerated Strategic
Computing Initiative (ASCI) of the Department of Energy.
Three major DoE laboratories--Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory (LLNL), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and
Sandia National Laboratory (SNL)--are spearheading
revolutionary computational methods to simulate complex physical
processes and the behavior of materials under extreme conditions.
CS&E is vital for the success of
With today's high-resolution imaging technology it is
possible to produce brain scans that reveal thoughts,
moods, and memories--as clearly as a traditional X-ray
image reveals bone structure. We are now able to observe
a person's brain registering an event or experiencing a
painful memory. We can generate a static map of the
human brain and can observe the electrical processes
as they occur over time. Neuroscientists are beginning
to develop models of the human brain that are direct
results of this latest high-resolution imaging technology.
The next step is the development of algorithms that simulate
the observed brain activity patterns. Again, computational
science and engineering methods will play a key role in
advancing this area of research.
One of the most complicated processes currently being
studied by scientists in a variety of disciplines, and
primarily in molecular biology, is
the so-called folding problem. The molecular structure
of complex protein molecules is believed to greatly impact
the eventual function of these proteins. It is crucial
to understand the time-varying process of process folding
itself, and computational techniques are of fundamental
interest to (computational) molecular biologists to better
understand the relationship between the structure of
protein molecules, the folding process that leads to a
final structure, and the function of the protein.
To accomplish the desired major impact of CS&E on the campus,
it will be crucial to have a strong interaction with all CS&E-impacted and
-interested science and engineering units. CS&E is a field that must not be
viewed in isolation from applications or as a field that could thrive by
merely looking inward. CS&E must reach out to science
and engineering in order to justify its existence, improve and strengthen
ongoing computing-based efforts, and promote an increase in the
utilization of CS&E across science and engineering in general.
It is the view of the majority of the Committee members that UC Davis
needs a CS&E facility and that it should couple CS&E activities and
the tackled science and engineering applications very closely.
Without this coupling there would be the danger that departments and
units across campus might initiate their own independent CS&E-like
activities, and this would surely deprive a potential CS&E unit of
students, interactions, and funding. The development of CS&E on campus
must not be done in isolation from the campus community at large. Only
this will ensure the success of a centralized CS&E effort, an effort
that would be accepted broadly, would minimize the risk of duplicating
efforts, and would lead to the desired interdisciplinary faculty
interactions in CS&E.
Another important aspect of the development of CS&E relates to the
existing Graduate Group in Applied Mathematics (GGAM).
This Graduate Group consists of approximately sixty faculty members
and was formed to train applied mathematicians to carry out
research in the physical sciences and engineering. GGAM aims at
satisfying the need for applied mathematics education as it relates
to science and engineering applications. GGAM offers MS and PhD
degrees, and students may be supervised by any faculty member of the
Group. The areas represented by this Group span a wide variety of
fields, currently including population biology, atmospheric
sciences, continuum mechanics, optimization and control, theoretical
chemistry, computer and engineering sciences, mathematical physics,
scientific visualization and geometric modeling, and mathematics.
GGAM should play an important role in the development of CS&E.
The reason for this is that the ``three pillars'' of CS&E are
(i) science and engineering applications;
(ii) methods of applied mathematics;
(iii) computer science techniques for practical algorithm implementation.
The development of CS&E should build on these three components
and ensure that more and improved interactions will result.
Moreover, the Graduate Group in Statistics could play a similarly
important role in this context.
Both applied mathematics and statistics principles are of crucial
importance for algorithm development to solve CS&E problems.
There is no lack of funding opportunities in CS&E. Examples are
large-scale programs such as the Accelerated Strategic Computing
Initiative (ASCI), the Next Generation Internet Initiative, and
the Information Technology for the
ASCI is the result of a nuclear test ban treaty prohibiting the U.S.
from testing nuclear devices. ASCI is concerned with the development
of large-scale CS&E technology allowing the computer simulation of
the behavior of nuclear devices. ASCI and the other cited programs
require a major involvement of academic institutions, which is a
significant asset concerning the development of CS&E at UC Davis.