Executive Director's Note Fall 2013

September 27, 2013

It's been an active and exciting summer and fall in the life of IACS. The news and events have piled up, and an update is long overdue. As the new Acting Executive Director, I wanted to share a quick look at some of the things that have kept us so busy these past few months, and a sneak peek at things to come.

Leadership transition

Tim Kaxiras and Hanspeter Pfister

IACS Founding Director Tim Kaxiras and new IACS Director Hanspeter Pfister

Efthimios (Tim) Kaxiras decided to step down as Founding Director to focus on teaching and his own research in multiscale modeling. Without Tim’s leadership, vision, and hard work, IACS would not exist as the thriving academic community it is today. Tim will of course continue to be engaged as a key member of the faculty committee. He and Ros Reid are hard at work on a report summarizing the first three years of IACS for eventual publication. 

Our new Director, Hanspeter Pfister, is the An Wang Professor of Computer Science at SEAS. He is a computer scientist known for his work with large-scale scientific data and his research in visualization and computer graphics, and he has been a part of IACS since Dean Cherry A. Murray and Tim Kaxiras convened the first faculty committee to start planning coursework and academic programs in computational science at Harvard. Hanspeter has created several popular courses focusing on parallel programming and data science, most recently CS 109: Data Science. This course, co-taught with Joe Blitzstein from the Statistics Department, has over 300 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled, not including students taking the course through Harvard Extension School.

Ros Reid has begun a new position as Executive Director for the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Although she has stepped down from her role as Executive Director at IACS, we have thankfully convinced her to spend one a day a week at IACS as a consultant to help us through this transition. Meg Hastings is serving as the Acting Executive Director.

Summer pilot program: Undergraduates tackling problems from industry

Summer undergraduate students and mentors

IACS undergraduate student researchers, mentors Margo Levine (far left), Daniel Weinstock (third from left), and Avi Shapiro (far right), and QRI liaison Sebastien Matringe (second from right)

This summer, as Tim wrapped up his tenure as Director, was an especially active one at IACS. A generous private donation allowed IACS to experiment with a hands-on summer program for undergraduate students. Six students recruited through the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences' Research Experiences for Undergraduates program divided into two teams to work with mentors on computational problems contributed by industrial partners. "Team QRI," tackling a problem contributed by Quantum Reservoir Impact, devised methods for predicting oil production from unconventional reservoirs, while "Team Akselos" was challenged by the Akselos software company to compare 1D and 3D simulation methods in mechanical engineering. We are hoping to find resources to scale up this exciting program, which gives undergraduates a taste of how computation is applied in industry.

First Computational Science and Engineering master's students arrive

master's student at IACS Fall Celebration

IACS master's students Ben Cook, Peter Bull, Zongyi Zhang, Ming Zhu, and Taiyo Wilson at the IACS Fall Celebration

The first cohort of Computational Science and Engineering master’s students have arrived, and they are settling in to their coursework and livening up the new IACS suite in the Northwest Building at 52 Oxford St. The admissions committee did a phenomenal job selecting a talented, energetic, and diverse class of 24 Master of Science (SM) students. The class is 29% female, and 29% of the students have prior graduate degrees. Most of them (63%) are US citizens, and the largest international group comes from China (24%). Their academic backgrounds span engineering, the social sciences, medicine, mathematics, philosophy, and the physical sciences. We also have four Harvard College students pursuing an AB/SM joining the CSE master’s students and our PhD secondary field students in the IACS student community. 

Distinguished Scientist in Residence: Sadasivan Shankar

IACS is delighted to host our first Distinguished Scientist in Residence, Sadasivan Shankar. Sadas has been a member of the IACS Advisory Board from the start, and he served as co-organizer of last January's Symposium. Sadas is Senior Principal Engineer and leads materials design in the Design and Technology Group within the Intel Technology and Manufacturing Organization. He is spending the semester at SEAS under a sabbatical arrangement sponsored by Intel. Sadas is teaching a course on the computational design of materials this fall, and he gave a talk today as part of the biweekly IACS seminar series.

IACS staffing updates

Pavlos Protopapas, a lecturer for IACS since its inception, accepted a staff position this summer as our Scientific Program Director, and he continues to teach an IACS course on stochastic optimization methods (AM 207). Pavlos joins the IACS staff team comprised of Daniel Weinstock, assistant director of graduate studies in computational science and engineering; Natasha Baker, administrative coordinator; and Meg Hastings. Staff contact information can be found on our People page.

Fall recruitment events

big data career fair

The students may have just arrived, but fall recruitment events are already underway. Harvard is holding a Big Data, Technology, and Engineering Fair on October 4. Daniel Weinstock organizes student recruitment events for companies who would like to discuss career opportunities with the master's students. October events include presentations by Quantum Reservoir Impact (QRI) and D. E. Shaw Research.

Ideas for student research projects

Both our PhD secondary field students and CSE master's have the opportunity to pursue an independent research project in applied computation for credit as part of their programs. If you have a project idea or data set that might contain an interesting computational problem for a semester-long or year-long project, please use the form on this website to submit your project proposal to the IACS students: http://iacs.seas.harvard.edu/iacs-project-exchange

Looking ahead

Thanks to the support of Dean Cherry Murray, and the hard work of Tim, Ros, and IACS faculty and staff, IACS is well positioned to shape the study and practice of computational science in a time of increasing demand for these skills and increasing interest in the field. Our tasks this year include admitting the next CSE SM cohort and the first Master of Engineering (two-year) students, considering new coursework in data science, and searching for the next IACS Executive Director. Plans are underway for the fourth annual ComputeFest in January, including the Third Annual Symposium on the Future of Computation in Science and Engineering. Stay tuned for more details in the coming months!

Meg Hastings

Acting Executive Director