Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Computational Science: A New Science Branch?

Raise your hand if you've never heard about computer science before. I bet no one. What about computational science? Have anyone heard about it before? Few, I believe.

As we know, computer science is a field that study theoretical and practical foundation of information and computation to be implemented in computer and computing systems. Computer scientist works in studying softwares and algorithms in create, describe, and transform the information, then applies it on the computer systems by build new softwares, improve the previous one, or even design a new system.

So, what about computational science? Computation itself needs theories and methods of computer science to process and analyze information. Generally, computation is used as a scientific method of certain research fields of science. This can be implied that the term 'computational science' refers to the scientific branch which solve the problem in science using a computational methods, which concerns to mathematical modelling, quantitative analysis and simulations.

There are several fields of science which broad its perspective using computational theories and methods. Some of the fields are physics, biology, chemistry, and material science. Other fields which also use it are linguistics and finance.

What is the basic skill of computational science? Sure, it's all on mathematics and programming! Anyone want to learn it has to face at least linear algebra, numerical analysis, and programming skills (the most popular maybe still on C language and FORTRAN). But it doesn't means that its object fields such as physics and biology get a cheesy part in the process. Anyone learning fields of computational science for biology, popularly called computational biology, have to understand basic principles of topic he/she want to analyze. For an example, if someone want to make a simulation of protein synthesis in cell, he/she has to understand the pathway of protein synthesis in the cell, without missing the detail of materials (enzymes, etc) and reactions needed. If that one is already understand about the basic knowledge, then he/she would be able to enter the computational process, like choosing what methods he/she can use and what kind of data is needed.

Hard!! Why on earth should this kind of science be invented and studied? Physics, finance, and other fields itself are already hard to learn. Quantum physics is already complex enough to learn, why should anyone want to model or make simulations of it? That's the point! There are a lot of science branches that are, in some reasons, hard to do an experiment on it. Either by the huge budget it needs or limited technology. Sure it's not cheap and easy to see an electron movement in a room filled with bananas (who wanna do that anyway!!).

Computational science is a really good way to support the real experiment and build a model or prediction based on experiment. It really works on many research topics of science in the last decade, and will grow more and more in line with the invention and development of computer technology, science theories, and the needs in other aspects, such as industrial needs for material design or business prediction trends for the next decade. Yeah, computational science is a broad-prospect field. But more than that, it gives huge contribution to the outgrowth and advancement of science. So, if you are currently learning science, math or related fields, wanna give a shot to take a part on it?

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