The CS&E Ph.D. program has a mission distinct from those of typical degree programs in computer science and computer engineering. The CS&E program distinguishes itself from these other fields by investigating how to apply current software and hardware technologies to emerging problems in engineering and the sciences.
Due to its multidisciplinary nature, the CS&E Ph.D. program is a nondepartmental program. This unique status means that any graduate degree-granting department at MTU may grant a CS&E Ph.D. The nondepartmental status of the CS&E program allows faculty from any department to sponsor CS&E students. When a CS&E degree is awarded, the sponsoring department is acknowledged for that accomplishment just as it is for awarding a degree in its own discipline.
The CS&E Ph.D. program provides a unique opportunity to foster multidisciplinary research and instruction at MTU. The structure of the CS&E program ensures that it can stay at the leading edge of current technologies and that it will be in a position to quickly incorporate and apply them to emerging scientific and engineering problems.
Participants in the CS&E program currently share the largest concentration of computational resources available at MTU. They make use of these facilities to advance their research programs, to provide multidisciplinary training in computationally intensive methods, and to offer instruction to CS&E students and to students in other graduate and undergraduate degree programs.
What does "nondepartmental" mean? There is no one department that "owns" the CS&E Ph.D program. Instead, it is directly responsible to the Graduate School. No other Ph.D program at MTU has this relationship; all other Ph.D programs at MTU are responsible to a specific "home" academic department. The Department of Computer Science is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the CS&E Ph.D program but, in principle, any MTU department may take on this responsibility.Any graduate-degree-granting department at MTU may grant a CS&E Ph.D. This is a tremendously important and distinguishing feature of the CS&E Ph.D program at MTU. No other Ph.D program at MTU has this feature. One consequence of this fact is that any MTU department can be a "home" to a CS&E Ph.D student. The home department provides the student's advisor, financial support, basic computational facilities, and all other support that is usually provided to students in the department's own Ph.D program. However, the student is subject to the degree requirements of the CS&E Ph.D program rather than the degree requirements of the Ph.D program of the home department. This frees the student and his/her advisor to construct a truly interdisciplinary degree program that best fits a computationally-intensive research emphasis.
The CS&E Ph.D program was originally created to house two groups of graduate students: those doing interdisciplinary research in computational science (as applied to problems in the sciences and engineering) and those studying current research in the discipline of computer science (as applied to traditional areas of computer science such as hardware, software, networks, etc.). In the fall of 2001 the Computer Science Ph.D program was approved by the Board of Control. Since then the CS&E Ph.D program has been able to focus solely on the mission of producing Ph.D graduates in the interdisciplinary area of computational science.In the fall of 2001 the CS&E Ph.D program underwent an external review, as mandated periodically by the Graduate School for all MTU graduate programs. One of the primary recommendations of that review was that a CS&E Research Institute should be created to help foster growth in the computational sciences at MTU. This goal was accomplished in the fall of 2002 with the creation of the CS&E Research Institute.
Summary: The CS&E Ph.D program has more flexibility and interdisciplinary breadth than any other Ph.D program at MTU. It is the only Ph.D program at MTU that reports directly to the Graduate School, and it is the only Ph.D degree at MTU that can be awarded by more than one department. A primary goal of the newly created CS&E Research Institute is to foster the development of the CS&E Ph.D program.
How is CS&E research different than traditional science and engineering research?
- CS&E problems cannot be solved in a laboratory. CS&E problems cannot be solved by direct ("wet lab") experimentation or by field observation. CS&E problems are too large to "fit" into a laboratory. The only way to solve them is to simulate them inside a computer.
- CS&E problems cannot be solved on your desktop computer. It would take years or centuries to solve CS&E problems on a typical PC. Much much more powerful computers are required. To solve the largest and most interesting problems, more complex computer systems are an absolute necessity.
- CS&E research is interdisciplinary. CS&E research is always a combination of sophisticated computational methods applied to the specific science and engineering problems at hand. CS&E researchers (students and faculty) have been trained in their application areas (the science or engineering problems), they have been trained in the latest computational techniques (i.e., computer program design and implementation), and they understand how to use the most powerful computer systems to solve their problems.
- CS&E research is different than research in computer science. Research in computer science is centered on problems such as how to build better, faster, and cheaper computers, how to design, implement, and maintain software. Some typical research areas in computer science are graphics, computer architecture, programming languages, operating systems, networks, databases, and the theory behind all of these topics. Computer science research is not concerned with physics problems, problems in civil or mechanical engineering, problems in oil field exploration, plate techtonics, or atmospheric chemistry. On the other hand, CS&E research is very much interested in applying the latest computer science advances in graphics, computer architecture, programming languages and networks to problems in physics, civil and mechanical engineering, oil field exploration, and so on. The discipline of Computational Science and Engineering is the application of computer science to problems in the sciences and engineering.
- Important CS&E problems are:
- Energy efficiency: combustion processes and emissions
- Simulated crash testing of automobiles
- Environmental studies: pollution in the ground, water, and air
- Molecular dynamics: simulating the behavior of atoms and molecules
- Computational chemistry: simulating chemical processes
- Bioinformatics: genetic sequencing and recombinant studies
- Weather forecasting, including hurricane and tornado tracking
- Aeronautics: airframe design and dynamics
- National defense and security interests: bio/chemical terrorism, intelligence
- Nuclear stockpile stewardship
What Makes CS&E Computers Different Than The One On Your Desktop?
In most cases, computers used in CS&E research are ``parallel" computers made up of tens or hundreds of ordinary computers all connected by a network that allows the computers to ``talk" to each other while they work on solving a problem.
- Parallel computing: It's not the number of processors; it's the network. People working on a project team not only do work, but they cooperate with each other to coordinate their efforts. This requires that team members communicate with one another. The same feature distinguishes parallel computers from ordinary PC's. In the photos below it is important to notice more than just the number of processors (CPUs) that each parallel computer has. In most cases the photo at the right shows the network technology used to connect the computers. In some cases the cost of the network is about the same as the cost of the computers it connects. This is convincing evidence that a fast network is as important as fast computers.
- Parallel programs: A program for a parallel computer must divide the work between those computers. All of the computers work on the problem at the same time. Each computer does its share of work just as members of a project team all contribute to the final result.
- Parallel computers speed up the time to solution and parallel computers solve larger problems: These two advantages go hand-in-hand. If more workers are assigned to a task, then we can expect the task to be completed sooner. Moreover, each computer working on the task comes with its own memory. The more computers there are, the more memory is available, and since more memory is available, more data can be used to represent the problem. This means larger problems can be solved. Problems such as predicting global warming require computers with as much memory as possible.
I'm still confused. Don't most researchers at MTU use computers? How is CS&E research different than what these researchers do?
We all use computers for word processing, web browsing and email. None of that begins to tax our computers. When was that last time that your own computer spent more than 20 seconds actually computing something? The only time that most of us usually have to wait for our computers is when large amounts of data (e.g., pictures, movies, web pages) are being moved from one place to another or while a large software package is being ``loaded". Desktop computers today are so powerful that for most day-to-day tasks (except 3-D game playing) they spend most of their time doing nothing at all. Most of the computers on our desktops spend most of their time waiting for us to do something!
In the laboratory, a researcher might use a computer to control the inputs to an experimental device or to automatically collect data during an experiment. Afterwards a computer is used to analyze the data that have been collected and to display the results using commercially available software. Sometimes the researcher writes a programs to analyze the data in a way particularly fitting to the science or engineering problem at hand. From the computer's point of view, none of the work it is required to do is at all taxing. The computer typically spends very little time doing this work; most of its time is spent waiting for the laboratory devices or for the researcher. Even though a computer and its software is an important laboratory tool, the particular computer is not critically important to the work being done. Any reasonably modern PC can usually do these jobs without breaking a sweat.
On the other hand, many CS&E researchers do not work in a traditional laboratory. They do not do experiments or make field observations. All of their research is done inside the computer. Their work is based on mathematical models of physical phenomena. A much of their research effort consists of turning those mathematical models into computer programs. Their computer programs simulate cloud formation, the flow of pollutants through the soil, the pressures on an aircraft wing, or the evolution of black holes. All of these "experiments" are artificial but, if carefully designed models are used, they mimic the real world so accurately and in so much detail that the results reveal what would actually happen in the real world. It is computational scientists who tell us that global warming is (or is not) happening. It is computational scientists who design new drugs without ever using a test tube. Many important problems today cannot be solved by traditional laboratory studies. The largest and most powerful computers are the only and best tools for scientists and engineers to use to solve these problems.
OK, now I understand that CS&E research is focussed on science and engineering problems that can only be solved using computers, but there are so many different units at MTU with "computer" in their names. What are the differences between then?
- The CS&E Research Institute: The CS&ERI was created as a home for researchers to collaborate on computational problems and techniques of common interest, to facilitate the development of long range research programs, to support the CS&E Ph.D. prgram, and to provide access to medium- and large-scale computational facilities that would not otherwise be available.
- The CS&E Ph.D. program: The CS&E Ph.D. program is the primary educational component of the CS&E Research Institute. A more detailed description of the CS&E Ph.D. program is given in the next section.
- The Department of Computer Science: The CS Department offers B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in computer science. It is concerned with all aspects of undergraduate and graduate computer science education. It has established research programs in a number of areas including parallel computing and advanced architectures, compiler technology, graphics, distributed systems, and several others. Some of the CS Department's educational and research activities are directed toward computational science and engineering, but there are many other areas of computing technology that fall within the scope of the CS Department.
- The Computer Science Ph.D. program: The CS Ph.D. program was established in the fall of 2001. It was originally part of the CS&E Ph.D. program. Now that these two programs have separated, the CS Ph.D. program concentrates on graduate education in the CS research areas such as those mentioned above, and the CS&E Ph.D. program concentrates on interdisciplinary graduate education and research in the application of computational techniques to current problems in the sciences and engineering.
- The Computer Engineering component of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department: The CE "department" is closely allied with the CS Department. Much of their curricula overlap. Some might say that computer engineering is more often concerned with hardware and computer science is more often concerned with software, but this is a gross oversimplification and in many cases simply incorrect. Here is an example of the close association between the disciplines of computer engineering and computer science. Special purpose computers embedded in "appliances" (anything from microwave ovens, cell phones, automobiles, to rockets) might fall closest to the domain of computer engineering. Designing programming languages, compilers, and software for those computers is likely to be the domain of computer science. Further discussion of these distinctions would be out of place here. The main point is that both computer engineering and computer science are distinct from computational science and engineering because CS&E research primarily focusses on problems in the physical world, not problems in the world of computers.
- The Information Technology department in EERC: IT is MTU's phone company, internet provider, and cable TV company. It is a business and service branch of MTU. IT provides internet connectivity across campus and to the outside world, but IT does not provide computational services to MTU researchers.
There is a huge list of links maintained on the University of Illinois CSE site.