Forget paper and pencil, or even a big white board. Most university research involves complicated math that ordinary computers and calculators are ill equipped to handle quickly.
Tennessee Tech University’s College of Engineering is helping researchers on campus find the answers to those difficult computations by sharing sophisticated hardware and offering computer science students to help run the calculations.
“There’s a lot of research going on, but people don’t have the resources to do some of the things they need to do,” said Bill Eberle, associate professor of computer science and co-director of TTU’s Institute for Modeling, Simulation and Discovery. “We want to bring researchers together on campus and hook them up with the computational resources they need.”
“As computer science people, we understand the computational side even though we don’t know the disciplines,” he said.
The institute opened its doors last fall, and took its first year reaching out to academic departments across campus. So far, at least three faculty members from different disciplines have come to partner and use its resources.
The institute and its workers, both undergraduate and graduate students, can write and develop programs to do the computations – including complex models and simulations – for the researchers so they can get their data more quickly.
“There are places on campus where you can get funding and help of that kind already,” Eberle said. “While we have some funding available, we’re trying to help them with their ideas so they can get more seed money down the road.”
The institute staff also plans to bring in three speakers from different disciplines each semester to talk about different types of research as a way to reach out and bring a variety of researchers together. The project leader is Stephen Scott, TTU’s Stonecipher/Boeing distinguished professor of computing and a researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Doug Talbert, chair of the computer science department, is co-director.
Expanding research and cross-disciplinary collaborations on campus has become a priority for the university, with the creation of the Office of Research and Economic Development and an emphasis on faculty development and scholarship through Flight Plan, a project to identify strategic directions for TTU’s future.
“Researchers often stay in their own areas and have trouble building cross-disciplinary partnerships. We think we can help the campus with that,” Eberle said. “We’re trying to get a breadth of people from all over different disciplines.”