Theory and Computation Carnival (Repost)

(Originally appeared here.)

A few weeks ago, with his post “What do theoretical physicsts actually do?”, Thoreau inspired me to write a post about what my work entails. But, theory and computation are certainly not the province of physics, and an idea for this carnival was born. I am very excited to share with you a wonderful set of entries from scientists at different stages in their career, from academia and industry, and spanning a number of different fields.

Thoreau at Unqualified Offerings describes his career trajectory, from becoming a theorist in a somewhat unconventional way to being a physics professor. He discusses the multiple facets of his work and shares the joys and excitement that come from cracking a really important longstanding problem.

HFM left a comment, which I reposted as a guest post for easier reading. HFM is a graduate student who considers themselves a “semi-theorist” in that they interface closely with experimentalists but can speak the pure theorists’ language well, too. HFM considers making sense of complex data their strength, and writes about the likes (variety) and dislikes (not belonging anywhere, hard to find a postdoc) of their daily work.

Bee who blogs at Backreaction is a theoretical physicist who works on the phenomenology (a part of theory that makes connection to experiment) of quantum gravity. She writes about her field in accessible terms and discusses what it takes to make a successful model, one that addresses certain experimental features while maintaining mathematical consistency. She also shares that, when working on a paper, she will frequently communicate with others in the same field, travel to conferences or organize a workshop.

Miss MSE over at Periodic Boundary Conditions tells us about her work employing the molecular dynamics technique. She studies interfaces between polymer and nonpolymer systems, systems where “there’s no good way to study them experimentally without fundamentally changing the structure, and therefore the properties, of the interface.” She loves how broadly applicable the technique is, talks about here code-development experiences, and emphasizes that everything she does is informed by experiments.

Anonymous Mad Scientist in a Strange Land writes about his work on first-principles quantum-mechanical calculations used to look at interfaces of materials in systems previously computationally inaccessible due to their complexity. He also shares how he’s always wanted to be a theorist, and how his career progressed so far, leading him to his current position as a postdoc in France.

Dr. Sneetch of The Sneetch Blog is a mathematician who enjoys crossing the boundary between pure and applied math seamlessly, following her work. She feels that, with mathematicians, you cannot separate the person from the work, that “Mathematics sustains and nourishes us as much as we sustain and nourish it. There is no distinction between the person and the mathematician and perspectives matters.” Dr. Sneetch also talks about the singular focus necessary to do research in mathematics.

Pika from Academic International writes about her work in a pseudonymous field of Beachinformatics. She says that she’s always been interested in applied mathematics and discusses several aspects of her work, such as data mining and visualization, that are inherent in dealing with complex data systems.

In her daily work, Rebecca from Adventures in Applied Math helps scientists of different specialties with their computational woes. Rebecca wrote an interesting post that emphasizes how computational techniques cross the boundaries between fields very well: scientists in many different specialties all need to solve partial differential equations, eigenvalue problems, or simply need their codes to run faster or parallelize better.

ScienceGirl from Curiosity Killed the Cat writes how being a computer scientist focused on scientific computing enables her to satisfy her great curiosity in all fields of science, as she says “Performing computation in a smart way to do unprecedented science. I don’t really care what science – physics, climate, medical research, all are important and all fascinating. So I know I’ve chosen my trade well – as a computer scientist, I get to have my fingers in any of them!”

Cloud from Wandering Scientist brings the perspective of “a scientist and a techie” with a career in the biotech industry. For example, she likes the variety of her work, the intellectual challenges, and when wearing a project manager’s hat, “figuring out how to bring all the pieces together to get a project to complete successfully- it is like a big logic problem.” She is not too keen on some of the corporate politics and the industry’s volatility.

Nauromath contributed a guest post. His field is theoretical neuroscience, and in his work he tries to understand how the brain works by studying in detail the environment we live in. He also discusses how his work addresses some of the limitations of experiments and reveals a great passion for his work, because, as he says “brains are very cool,” and there are many open problems where the theoretical approaches he develops are the best bet for a solution.

A related guest post was contributed by Dr. Cow, who is interested in “human cognition, specifically developmental cognitive neuroscience.” Dr. Cow discusses why computation is useful in this line of research, and cites reasons such as inability to run experiments directly “either because of a gap in methodology or due to ethical considerations” and the ability of computational methods to “define the complex and dynamic relationship between the neural structures and behavioral outcomes.”

Gasstationwithoutpumps contributed a post on his work as a bioinformatician. In contrast to, for instance, computational physics where typically one uses a computer to solve a mathematical model, his work is not model-driven but data-driven. He says “It is rare in bioinformatics that we get to build models that explain how things work. Instead we rely on measuring the predictive accuracy of “black-box” predictors, where we can control the inputs and look at the outputs, but the workings inside are not accessible.” He also talks about the research path he took to his current field.

Thanks to all the wonderful bloggers who took the time to contribute to this carnival and share what it is that makes us, theorists and computational scientist, enjoy our work so much. There is a great deal of passion for their craft that radiates from each one of these posts and I trust you will find it contagious. Enjoy!

One comment

  1. The thing that makes me sad about this repost is that several of the bloggers are no longer writing. I really liked the Sneetch blog! I miss it! But there are no more star-bellied mathematical sneetches writing online….

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