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Computer Science

In 1958, Chaim Pekeris completed a landmark project in computer science. As a physicist at the Weizmann Institute of Technology in Israel, he become fascinated with the relatively new science of quantum mechanics and its potential to explain from first principles the behaviour of atoms.

There was a problem however. The equation developed by Schrodinger that could do the job was too complex for mere mortals to handle. Using it to determine the electronic energy levels of a even a lowly helium atom was seemingly impossible.

Chaim had an idea, however: why not exploit the incipient field of computer science to do the job.

Today, Christoph Koutschan and Doron Zeilberger analyse the work he carried out over several years and compare it to the approach that they would take to the problem today. It makes for interesting reading.

Chaim’s task was monumental. He first had to persuade the Wiezmann Institute and a technical committee including Einstein and Von Neumann, to build a computer. Einstein proved hard to persuade but was eventually won over by Von Neumann.

WEIZAC, Israel’s first electronic computer was built between 1954 and 1954. According to Wikipedia, WEIZAC was an asynchronous computer operating on 40-bit words. Instructions consisted of 20-bits: an 8-bit instruction code and 12-bits for addressing. For a memory it had a magnetic drum that could store 1,024 words.

Today you’d get more processing power out of a washing machine.

Before the computer could get involved, Pekeris had to work out how to describe the two atoms and nucleus of a helium atom using the kind of recurring partial differential equations that a computer could handle. The result was a remarkable 33-term equation which he derived by hand, a single calculation that Koutschan and Zeilberger estimate must have taken 20 person hours.

The computer than had to be programmed–in machine code. That means writing it entirely in 0s and 1s, for which he recruited help from an early self taught programmer called Yigal Accad.

This program then kept WEIZAC busy for months, eventually producing a set of tables describing the energy levels of a helium atom, the first time this had been done accurately..

So how has Moore’s Law affected this process, ask Koutschan and Zeilberger.

They repeated Pekeris’ project using the modern tools of computer science to see how they compare.

They say that the numeric computation–the work done by WEIZAC–can be completed in a fraction of a second on any laptop such as Pavilion dv9000(Hp dv9000 battery) and Hp PB991A.

They also point out that the programming is much easier too, thanks to the many high level programming languages available today. Few people these days have to mess around with machine code, thankfully.

But perhaps the most surprising thing is that the algebra for working out the differential equations can also be done much faster today using computer algebra programs such as Mathematica and Maple.

Koutschan and Zeilberger say they were able to condense this part of the project, which took Pekeris at least 20-hours, into a 2-hour session.

That’s a fascinating study and counterintuitive in some ways too. While it’s easy to see the many orders of magnitude improvement that has improved hardware, it’s clear from this work that the speed up from software is more limited.

In particular, an order of magnitude improvement–from 20 hours to 2 hours–in the time it takes to do the algebra for this problem is a surprisingly small improvement over a 50 year period.

But given the nature of the problem, it’s hard to imagine how further order of magnitude improvements can be possible. What kind of computer algebra software could allow a human to program it work out these kind of differential equations in minutes or seconds.

Of course the limiting factor here is not the software but the ‘wetware’. Which means that the next generation of improvements will either have to focus on improving the wetware or taking it out of the loop entirely.

Read About Speech in Science and Technology

Speech in Science and Technology

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Speech writing is applicable to different fields of study including the field of science and technology. In order to write quality speech papers in science and technology, students and writers should have knowledge and skills in this field of study. Moreover, speech writing skills are also essential in order to come up with quality papers. An effective and quality speech paper should be intriguing and bale to grab the reader’s attention. This means that writers have to be highly creative so that they can compose quality speeches in any given field of study. The other requirement is that a speech writer has to have adequate knowledge on the subject and topic on which the speech writing is about. An in-depth research is therefore necessary when writing speech papers on any given topic or field of study.

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Read About Impact of Technology on Business

Science and Technology Interface

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The most important consideration should be the integration of science and technology. We have created boundaries between science and technology and between physical sciences and biological sciences. Even in the management of higher education, the All India Technical Council of Education (AICTE) look after technical and professional and university Grants Commission (UGC) looks after science education. We should either merge these entities or allow both to look after science and technology in the institutes associated with these bodies. If we separate science from technology are getting complicated; without integrating technology with science we will not be able to translate research into tangible products and create value.

As an example breeding superior crops for ushering in a second green revolution requires both knowledge of basic and applied biology. Future breeders will require a sound knowledge of molecular biology, genetics, bio-chemistry, mathematics and statistics, skills in computational work and handling laboratory equipment. Unfortunately, such education is not being imparted nor are there concerted efforts to create interdisciplinary teams to use the knowledge of molecular biology and genomic to produce novel seeds, which would require lesser inputs of water and chemicals and provide higher yield as compared to the present varieties and hybrids.

To take an example from chemistry, those who want to research new drug molecules or pesticides need some knowledge of biological sciences as a large number of chemical are being synthesized and studies for use on biological entities. Research in the field of nano-materials requires a sound knowledge of both chemistry and physics and a feel for technology.

To create a strong science-technology interface at the University of Delhi, They have initiated three M-Tech courses-nuclear physics and process development—to train students in areas that require knowledge of both science and technology. Students with undergraduate degree in natural sciences are admitted in these three-year courses. We hope this will set a new trend in the country in developing a strong science-technology interface.

Research is conducted both for satisfying curiosity and for generating value. Research that satisfies curiosity is important but research that creates values is even more important. Indian needs strong research and development in areas that will generate value—new seeds, new drugs, electronic devices, new materials for the developing new tangible products, participation of industry in research and development programme, it is the industry which will scale up, commercialize, and create wealth. Bodies like department of sciences and technology, department of bio-technology and council of scientific and industrial research have taken step in involving industry in research projects. However, larger efforts are required.

Both basic science and technology development research can be improved by improving our competitive research grant system provided by the departments of ministry of science and technology. Submitted research projects should be approved or rejected in no more than four months. To encourage industry-university puts one repee in a research project, the government agencies should put double that amount.

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