Simulations for Solutions: Solving Problems Through Scientific Computing

04-04-2014 12:00 PM - 04-05-2014 01:00 PM
Steven Wise, Associate Professor of Mathematics, UTK
UT Science Forum
Thompson-Boling Arena, Dining Room C-D, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Email: Mark Littmann

Computer simulation is used in almost every aspect of our lives, from the design of the antenna on our smartphones, to the weather forecast that we rely on before we leave for work in the mornings. But, what are computer simulations really? Are they reliable? Are there problems that we cannot solve with computers? There are some amazing success stories in the history of computer simulation, and, in fact, there are certainly things that human beings simply could not do without relying upon computers to crunch the numbers. However, with any subject that has a history, there are also great failures and cautionary tales we all should heed. Wise will discuss the advent of scientific computing, from the early days at Princeton and Los Alamos and the building of the first atomic weapons, to the present day and the great triumphs of modern computing. This lecture is also speculative about the future, as Wise will speak about what challenges lie ahead and how we might—and might not—be able to solve some of our biggest problems with the help of computers.

Dr. Steven Wise: "Ironically, in this information age in which we live, it's easy to forget – or never even realize -- that computers do much more than shuttle data through fiber optic cables or over the air through cellular towers. We increasingly depend upon computers to help us simulate and predict future events, like earthquakes and tornadoes, as well as to find the information equivalents of needles in haystacks by finding patterns in veritable mountains of data. In this sense, computers are not only moving big data sets around but also generating and helping to make sense of it." "In this talk, I want to help people understand how computers simulate and make sense of the world around us, to appreciate the power and beauty of the algorithms that enable machines to do this. But, computers and algorithms aren't perfect; they always bring along and introduce some errors. And sometimes these errors are fatal to the predictions. So my secondary mission is to help the public understand the some limitations to our technology and how we might overcome some of these in the future."


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