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Computational Science and Physics at Illinois Tech

By Grant Bunker, Chair and Professor, Physics

Physicists have long used computers in research. The modern stored program computer architecture was conceived and implemented by mathematician and physicist John von Neumann in 1945, inspired by Alan Turing’s theoretical ideas. In physics, computers are used to test theoretical models against observations, to analyze experimental data, and to serve as virtual experiments in themselves.

Initially “computers” were human individuals. Later, computations were done by carefully choreographed groups of humans operating mechanical calculators; later yet, by electronic computers that were based on vacuum tubes, then transistors, then CPUs; and nowadays by carefully choreographed clusters of CPUs and GPUs.

Another very different computational approach that was used by physicists employed analog computers, which (among other things) solved differential equations by devising electronic (or fluidic) circuits whose behavior was a mathematical analogue of the behavior of the physical system of interest.

Computation is an essential, pervasive, educational, and fun aspect of doing physics at Illinois Tech. More »

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