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Research Opportunities.

The ISU Undergraduate Computational Science Laboratory (UCSL) Project

The enormous progress in computational technology has generated a new methodology, computational science, for learning and advancing the traditional sciences such as physics and chemistry. The ISU Physics and Chemistry Departments were quick to recognize the impact of scientific computation on their disciplines. Both Departments have assembled substantial expertise in computational physics and chemistry and the integration of computing into the classroom. Despite limited facilities, faculty and students are actively engaged in computational coursework and research and are presenting results of this research in journals and at conferences.

With this background, we seek to initiate fundamental change in undergraduate science education by providing a model for computational-science laboratory instruction in physics and chemistry. Our long term goal is to create a multi-disciplinary center, the Undrgraduate Computational Science Laboratory (UCSL), devoted to teaching undergraduates state-of-the-art computational methods. The UCSL center will serve undergraduates and faculty members, with a goal toward getting undergraduates involved in computational science through advanced coursework and with research problems related to complex systems. While the areas of research will intentionally be diverse and span atomic, molecular, biological and cosmic scales, these areas will be united by a common computational methodology. Initial scientific leadership will be provided by faculty from the ISU Physics, Chemistry, and Applied Computer Science Departments. Once this kernel is in place, we will seek to expand the resources of the UCSL and to open the laboratory to other science and math disciplines.

Our current UCSL seed project, funded by the National Science Foundation grant #DUE 9352362, sets forth the initial stage of this project: we have aquired a minimal set of hardware and software in order to set up a seed lab. With the seed lab, faculty have a chance to develop the courses required for the broader UCSL, and students have access to state-of-the-art computational resources on a small scale. The UCSL is designed to support the following integrated set of projects:

    [bullet]Three-tiered set of courses
    1. Common computational backbone
    2. Common advanced methods and applications
    3. Specialized advanced methods and applications

    [bullet]Undergraduate research opportunities

    1. New applications of acquired knowledge

    [bullet]Undergraduate Degree Concentrations in all relevant departments

The project personnel consist of interdisciplinary teams of faculty with expertise in computational physics and chemistry education and research, and computer science. We anticipate that the results of the project will be transferable to the national scene in science education.

The curricular part of the project consists of four new computational science courses designed to be interdisiplinary in nature. In addition we have developed capstone courses in both computational Physics and Chemistry as disciplinary specializations of the general methods learned in the other classes. An outline of the full course structure is as follows:

    [bullet]Common computational backbone
    1. Programming for Scientists
    2. Computer Organization and Networking for Scientists
    3. Methods of Computational Science

    [bullet]Common advanced courses

    1. Nonlinear Science
    2. Molecular Dynamics

    [bullet]Disciplinary advanced courses

    1. Advanced Computational Physics
    2. Advanced Computational Chemistry

With the seed lab and new curricula and research program in place we will build on it and develop the full Undergraduate Computational Science Laboratory.

In the Illinois State University five year Academic Plan, published in April, 1992, two goals are outlined which capture the spirit of this project. This first goal, a theme in the ISU strategic plan, is that ISU should ''provide the premier undergraduate education in the state''. The second is an academic planning priority: to improve technologies for teaching and research. The computational laboratory and curriculum envisioned in this proposal is a significant first step in putting ISU in the forefront of undergraduate computational science education.

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