“It takes teams of skilled personnel representing many disciplines to manage computing system capabilities and apply them to complicated real-world challenges. Indeed, the PITAC believes that multidisciplinary teams required to address computational science challenges represent what will be the most common mode of science and engineering discovery throughout the 21st century.”
- President's Information Technology Advisory Committee
Computational Science, Ensuring America's Competitiveness (PITAC 2005)
The Computational Center for Fundamental and Applied Science and Education (CCFASE) unites investigators from five departments in the College of Science and Technology (CST) at North Carolina Central University, leveraging established strengths in computational research and education across the departmental disciplines.
Our goal is to use computational science as a focus for developing strong interdisciplinary, integrative research activities and research-based educational training that enhances the existing undergraduate and graduate programs at NCCU, and to establish an infrastructure and level of student participation suitable to justify, both in student quality and quantity, the future establishment of Ph.D. programs, thus expanding the University’s ability to increase minority representation in the sciences.
The main objectives of the NCCU-CREST are as follows:
To establish a world-class computational research center in fundamental and applied physical science
Broad interdisciplinary research engenders a level of complexity that makes it generally unsuitable for funding through separate independent grants, at least without the establishment of a centralized organizational infrastructure. There are also particular economies of scale inherent to the use of high performance computing that justify centralized sharing of computational resources, i.e. hardware, software and support personnel. Establishing a recognized ‘center’, both as an organizational entity and a physical location, can also be a critical factor in integrating the expertise and knowledge base of multiple researchers, particularly across disciplines.
CCFASE has been created under the administrative auspices of the College of Science and Technology at NCCU, occupies the same physical location as the College in the new Townes Science Complex, and builds upon and enhances the scope of existing science research at the University that is both interdisciplinary and highly dependent on computational modeling methods. The Center leverages the efforts and reputation of a core research group of 14 NCCU scientists; cultivates relationships with collaborating institutions including Cornell, the Center for Earthquake Research and Information, Duke, and the Jefferson National Laboratory; and provides a centralized organizational, technical and financial infrastructure NSF-CREST support in the interest of building both an increasingly strong reputation as a source of innovative and high-quality research and an ability to support itself through collaborations with national laboratories, industry, and an active portfolio of research grants.
To actively integrate independent research and computational science into undergraduate education
It is well known that early exposure to research increases the likelihood that the student will pursue graduate education in science or engineering. Anecdotal evidence from the NCCU Department of Physics provides an ample demonstration of this - prior to including students in research, only 5 to 10 percent of physics graduates went on to graduate school. In the last few years where all students have been supported with research stipends, each one of the last 12 graduates have been successfully enrolled in graduate programs.
The primary educational goal of the CCFASE is to enhance education and training in the sciences and to provide impetus for students to both enter and continue career in research. Key strategies for accomplishing this purpose include providing multiple opportunities for participation in a diverse array of cutting-edge interdisciplinary research projects, and ensuring that these projects are strongly mentored by dedicated faculty and supported with stipend or credit given for the student work.
Another key objective is to integrate the techniques, methodologies and modes of discovery common to primary research more strongly into the standard curriculum, so as to not only increase the possibilities for drawing students into research projects, but to enhance the education experience for all science students, researchers and non-researchers alike. NCCU has, for example, actively moved forward in the development of new degree programs in computational science, recognizing the growing workforce niche for individuals who possess a balanced set of technical (algorithmic and programming) skills along with practical knowledge of theory and application in a specific discipline.
To enhance the quality of M.S. Degree Programs and establish Ph.D. Degree Programs in Science at NCCU
CCFASE has two particular goals in respect to the existing graduate programs at NCCU, to improve the quality of the graduate education experience in the M.S. degree programs across the sciences and to increase the quantity of students earning degrees in the various programs. Increased support and opportunities for research through CCFASE will diversify and broaden the scope of research in the existing science departments at NCCU, and increased graduate student support will allow for more effective recruitment into the master’s degree programs. Funds for postdoctoral researchers and equipment will enable the establishment of a dynamic environment capable of competitive research activities at an HBCU institution.
A long-term goal of CCFASE is to establish a suitable basis of research and education activities to justify the creation of Ph.D. programs in the computational and physical sciences. The university has supported this initiative to expand the research opportunities for minority students and to contribute toward correcting the situation of few minority scientists with a Ph.D. in the physical sciences. Gradual increase of enrollment through CCFASE funding will eventually double the number of M.S. degrees awarded, a benchmark that, when met, will meet administrative stipulations for the creation of Ph.D. programs in the sciences at NCCU.
To establish the HBCU Computational Science Network
A key element of CCFASE will be the creation of a Computational Science Network (CSN) that will connect scientists, faculty and students at Historically Black College and University institutions with their colleagues in national laboratories, research universities, and industry. The mission of the HBCU-CSN is to connect research and development efforts in HBCUs to the perhaps more “mainstream” scientific endeavors in computational science and physical science, and, in effect, to establish CCFASE as not only a centralized resource for NCCU, but to also centralize, organize and provide resources for research to the extended HBCU community.
This material is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Numbers HRD-0833184
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