Cutting Edge Majors – Computational Science

September 17th, 2009 by Amelia

The idea of a college major goes back more than one hundred years. With very few exceptions, the list of available options for students today mirrors the very choices available for their parents and grandparents.

The one significant exception has to be the field of technology where a number of new options exist. But while these fields offer great career options, many are so cutting edge that students may not even understand what the major entails.

Such is the case with one of today’s cutting edge options, computational science. As technology continues to evolve, many industries are now using computer simulations to help them plan for a future that is not yet known.

Computers Simulating the Physical World

While computational science is the name given to the field, students might have a better sense of the major if the term simulation developer were used instead. Simply stated, computational scientists do not study computers; they use the computer and appropriate software models as tools to advance the study of other fields.

iStock_000009039493XSmallThe concept of simulation as a tool has been used for a long time in aviation. As part of their training, pilots use machinery that replicates the key elements of flying a plane. In addition to normal everyday flights, these simulators test advanced skills by presenting challenges to the pilot in the form of technical malfunctions or the effects of severe weather.

Today, high powered computers are used to simulate possible world events such as a terrorist attack. Military leaders use computational science to help develop battlefield plans and the appropriate contingencies that should be considered in specific situations.

Meteorologists use simulations to predict the path of a developing storm such as a hurricane as well as the impact of carbon emissions on a warming planet. Large corporations now train executives using simulations that offer specific business challenges that require executives to effectively use their management skills.

Properly constructed, simulation development models isolate individual factors to determine how any one factor alone or several taken collectively can affect an outcome. The results can be used to train specific professionals so that they are prepared to handle any specific problem when it arises.

Majoring in Computational Science

The key to the field’s importance is simple. Simulations create opportunities for training and allow for the testing of theories without ever putting a patient, an employee or a company at risk.

A career in computation sciences demands extensive knowledge of advanced mathematics, computer science, and simulation and modeling. Because a computational scientist creates an abstract model of the physical world then develops a computer program to mirror that world, these professionals must be able to translate abstract models to the language utilized by computers.

In addition, the particular system being modeled may require specific insight into other fields. For example, to create a weather model, simulators would need at least a rudimentary knowledge of physics and chemistry as well as an in depth understanding of the field of meteorology.

In the case of training business executives, computational scientists would likely need a background in psychology, economics, and business management principles. As for developing simulation training models for doctors, computational scientists must possess a strong background in biology, anatomy and physiology.

By the very nature of the field, students interested in simulation development also have the opportunity to be of great service to any number of important disciplines. For those interested in a technology/engineering career yet worried that their work might be of less value to society as a whole, the field of computational science represents a very rewarding career option to consider.

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