All who listen to Jerry Ostriker, Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University, come to know that we live in profoundly exciting times. We have learned only recently the age and composition of the universe, and for the first time, we are coming to understand how the galactic structures we observe throughout the sky came to be. Simply put, where do they come from, and how could they form if the early universe was relatively uniform? And how can we use them as standard objects unless we understand how and when they formed and how they evolved?
One of the key findings, said Ostriker at the September 29 Lunch ‘n Learn seminar, came from the WMAP satellite. Its observations of the Cosmic Background Radiation show the beginnings of structure in the aftermath of the Big Bang.
Princeton University has created a cyberinfrastructure, says Curt Hillegas, the Director of Princeton’s TIGRESS High Performance Computing and Visualization Center, itself a collaboration between the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering (PICSciE). Developed within the past decade, this cyberinfrastructure consists of computational systems, data and information management, advanced instruments, visualization environments, and people, all linked together by software and advanced networks to improve scholarly productivity and enable knowledge breakthroughs and discoveries not otherwise possible.
At the April 8 Lunch ‘n Learn seminar, Hillegas noted that the University’s research computing activity has grown to keep pace with and to provide leadership for this international trend. Tigress maintains a vast hardware and storage infrastructure. And staff provide support for programming and for the new visualization facilities within the Lewis Science library.
Imagine harnessing the power of the sun within a magnetic bottle. Unlike hydrogen bombs, which are essentially uncontrolled fusion reactions, scientists for decades have been pursuing the peaceful challenge of safely harnessing fusion energy, a potentially efficient and environmentally attractive energy source. Progress in addressing this scientific grand challenge, suggested William Tang, the Director of the Fusion Simulation Program at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has benefited substantially from advances in super-computing. At the March 10 Lunch ‘n Learn, Tang noted that such capabilities continue to progress at a remarkable rate, from tera-to-petascale today, and to exascale in the near future.
Image of the human head with the brain. The arrow indicates the position of the hypothalamus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Matthew Botvinick represents an eye opening cup of java. Building on the foundations of cognitive psychology, Botvinick’s laboratory works at the intersection of neuroscience, psychology and computer science, seeking to clarify the computational and neural foundations of human behavior. They employ a diverse set of research tools, including functional neuroimaging (fMRI), behavioral techniques (reaction time, error, and decision analyses), and computational modeling (neural networks, reinforcement learning models, and belief nets), typically applying multiple techniques to a single problem.
They are leveraging these tools to investigate a range of specific research questions, spanning the topics of cognitive control, working memory, decision making, sequential action, and language processing. Current projects include the monitoring and control of cognitive processing, the control of sequential behavior, and the representation of sequential order in working memory.
While computers are exponentially more powerful and increasingly important in both society and in every area of scholastic inquiry, modern computers appear to be incapable of solving certain problems. In recent decades, computer scientists have begun to develop an understanding of what makes some computational tasks “intractable” not just for current computers but for all foreseeable computers, even if they were joined together.
Princeton is the lead institution for a new $10 million National Science Foundation grant for the study of computational intractability. At the Dec 10 Lunch ‘n Learn seminar, Sanjeev Arora, the principal investigator on the new grant, Professor of Computer Science, the Director of the Center for Theoretical Computer Science, and the Director of the Center for Intractability gave an overview of both the field and what the new center is trying to accomplish.