Engineering Computers for Science

Posted Wednesday, June 20, 2018 at 12:31 PM

"Of all engineering’s achievements, the one with the greatest impact on modern science is the computer."

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Engineering Computers for Science

PostedWednesday, June 20, 2018 at 12:41 PM

Kate Gramling
Kate Gramling
Engineering Computers for Science

Oak Ridge National Laboratory this week unveiled Summit, the world’s newest and (for now) most powerful supercomputer. It will be “providing scientists with incredible computing power to solve challenges in energy, artificial intelligence, human health, and other research areas, that were simply out of reach until now.”

The first science to run on Summit includes a cancer surveillance project which will generate a comprehensive view of cancer for the US population. In the past, this kind of detailed information would only be available to researchers for small groups, like people in a clinical trial.

Another project will combine genetic information along with clinical data to understand the factors that contribute to health issues like opioid addiction. Other researchers will be applying artificial intelligence to identify patterns in human cellular systems. The hope is that these patterns will help identify and treat Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and other conditions.

Computers are one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century. They have not only allowed scientists to tackle questions too complicated to study in the past, but they are also changing how science is being done.

For example, it is easier than ever for people to participate in “citizen science” projects. One such project, Planet Hunters, asks volunteers to login to a website and look for evidence of extrasolar planets in the data collected by the Kepler spacecraft. More than 300,000 volunteers worldwide have participated, resulting in the confirmed identification of several exoplanets.

There are citizen science projects where volunteers identify animals captured in images taken by motion-activated cameras – another technology made possible through engineering. This helps scientists identify and estimate animal populations in remote areas. There are also projects where volunteers help identify fossils, train computers to detect plastic on coastlines, and even uncover the history of “citizen science” by reviewing magazines published in the late 1800s.

More than anything else, computers have simply sped up the process of research itself. Scientists can use online indexes to identify and access journal articles and related research. They can quickly and easily communicate with other researchers around the world using email and video conferencing tools. They can process their own data more efficiently with spreadsheets and word processing software – the same tools many of you use in school.

All of these things are possible through the advances in computer technology developed by engineers.

 

How do computers help you with science or engineering projects?

 

Photo: Courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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