Harvard SEAS Create Institute for Computational Science

SEAS hopes to expand initiative into full-fledged degree in computational sciences

The Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences announced last week the creation of a new research institute focused on computational science to enhance graduate study in the field.

The Institute of Applied Computational Science, which is directed by Physics Professor Efthimios Kaxiras, seeks to provide students the tools and training necessary to succeed in the field of computational science, an increasingly important part of science and engineering research.

SEAS Dean Cherry A. Murray, Kaxiras, and others involved in the Institute hope to eventually expand the initiative into a full-fledged degree in computational sciences. Such a development may take several years to occur, Kaxiras said, but he hopes that the more immediate changes will generate positive results.

“We have several ideas that will hopefully bear fruit in the next few months,” Kaxiras said. “We hope that even by next spring there will be a number of new courses which we hope will be exciting to the students and help start the progression.”

Kaxiras said he created a special task force consisting of faculty hailing from a variety of fields—including applied mathematics and computer science—to help develop curricular materials in the applied computational sciences.

Though it is too early to pinpoint specific course selections, Kaxiras said he believes that future classes may focus on computational projects. For instance, a class may involve the use of computational science to study the motion of fluids, perhaps culminating in a project that models the progression of oil spills at sea.

Kaxiras said that he and his team also aim to bolster current graduate course offerings by including more computational components.

The advances being made at the graduate level may well trickle down to undergraduates, according to Michael P. Brenner, professor of applied mathematics and applied physics.

“The hope is that, although this is a graduate initiative, it will have an indirect impact on undergraduate education,” Brenner said. “If we plan this right, then it will provide [undergraduates] opportunities to take more advanced computational classes at the graduate level.”

Kaxiras and his team also plan to invite experts from outside of Harvard to serve as faculty and advisers within the new Institute. The influx of new talent, combined with the interdisciplinary nature of the applied computational sciences, would ideally facilitate partnerships among faculty members from different academic backgrounds, Kaxiras said.

—Staff writer Nitish Lakhanpal can be reached at nitishlakhanpal@college.harvard.edu.