APS News

Highlights from PC'97 Meeting: Computation at the Physics Interface

The annual International Conference on Computational Physics (PC'97) was held 25-28 August 1997 in Santa Cruz, California, highlighting basic and applied computational physics and its applications worldwide to the university, industrial and laboratory communities. The conference was the first to be jointly sponsored by the APS Division of Computational Physics (DCOMP), and the APS Forum on Industrial and Applied Physics (FIAP). The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics and the European Physical Society were additional co-sponsors. The scientific program consisted of seven half-day sessions of review, invited and contributed papers, and also featured several tutorials on applications and methods of computational physics, as well as a Wednesday evening banquet featuring Paul Horn, vice president of research at IBM, as the keynote speaker.

Plenary speakers were selected from the broad-based constituency of computational physics: academia, industry and government laboratories, according to Barry Klein (University of California, Davis), then chair of DCOMP. "The plenary talks illustrated the robust interaction between the various scientific communities regarding research problems of interest, and the increasing opportunities for cooperative work between the different constituencies," he said. "In the field of computer modeling especially, there is a blurring of the 'basic' and 'applied' physics interface. This was very apparent at PC'97, and to my mind it is very healthy for physics." Klein added that feedback from the meeting was "very positive," and there are plans to continue this multidisciplinary computational physics meeting, probably two years from now.

On Monday morning, John P. McTague of Ford Motor Company addressed the use of high-performance computing in the automotive industry, including such applications as computer-aided vehicle design, crash simulation, modal analyses of vehicle vibrations, computational fluid dynamics, and air quality modeling. In the future, "Ultimately, production and manufacturing prototypes will rely completely on simulation," said McTague, adding that economic globalization will demand simulation of products and processes specifically tailored for local markets, and distributed computer systems will link a distributed automotive work force.

In the same session, Francisco Leon of Intel spoke of the electronics industry's need for a significant improvement in the sophistication of its processes and device simulation capability, driven by both technological and economic forces. Specifically, as transistor sizes approach limits imposed by material properties, and process control becomes impacted by atomic level variation, the industry is turning to more fundamental atomistic/modeling approaches of the physics and materials science communities, according to Leon. He added that innovations in basic algorithms and modeling methodologies are essential to the development of integrated circuit technology.

According to Lawrence Schwartz of Schlumberger-Doll Research, who spoke Tuesday morning, problems involving transport in porous media are of interest throughout the fields of petroleum exploration and environmental monitoring and remediation, especially those involving the flow of electrical current, viscous fluids, or fine-grained particles, as well as nuclear magnetic resonance, which is controlled by diffusion in the pore network. Schwartz described the development of two and three-dimensional models of porous media and the calculation of their physical properties, as well as the direct measurement of the pore structure by synchrotron X-ray microtomography.

On Wednesday morning, David DiVincenzo of IBM gave a general overview of recent advances in the theory of quantum computation, in which computation is performed not by a sequence of elementary boolean logic operations applied to a set of bits, but by a sequence of elementary unitary transformations applied to a set of quantum two-level systems. According to DiVincenzo, recent advances in quantum-computing algorithms have focused on finding speedups for classical mathematical problems, the most celebrated example of which is the prime-factoring quantum algorithm of Shor. But others have been pursuing the capability of quantum computers to efficiently emulate the real-time evolution of any other locally-interacting many-particle quantum system.

Later in the session, J. Maynard of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) described a new program in ultrascale computing to explore the domain of innovative computational models, methods and mechanisms - an effort to reach beyond the silicon digital paradigm by encouraging a complete re-thinking of computing. "Development of these advanced computing technologies will offer spectacular performance and cost improvements beyond the threshold of traditional materials and processes," said Maynard.

Uzi Landman of Georgia Institute of Technology described simulations for the nanoscale regime during Thursday morning's plenary session. Specifically, Landman described classical and quantum mechanical modeling and simulation methodologies, as well as studies of nanoscale materials systems and phenomena. The latter included generation mechanisms of nanowires and their various properties; structures and thermodynamics of nanocrystals and their superlattice assemblies; simulations of the structure and rheology of nanotribological systems; and the evolution of physical and chemical properties of materials clusters.

Later in the session, Klaus Jensen of MIT described his methodology for linking different length scale models for the chemical vapor deposition (CVD) of thin films, an important reactive processing step in the fabrication of thin film composites for electronic and optical applications. "The complex coupling of transport phenomena with gas-phase and surface chemical kinetics on different length scales implies that more than one type of modeling approach is needed to understand the entire CVD process," he said.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin