The Texas stampede

Rui Shi

The Texas Advanced Computing Center at UT recently received a $27-million grant from the National Science Foundation to build a new, state-of-the-art supercomputer. The supercomputer, affectionately nicknamed “Stampede,” will be one of the world’s fastest.

Stampede’s creation highlights the continued trend toward computational sciences. These developments have made it clear that computing and software skills are no longer restricted to the domains of electrical engineering or computer science. The need to cultivate these skills in future students in all areas of study is on the rise, and UT is uniquely positioned to introduce an interdisciplinary program that would allow for the application of computing in other subject areas.

The idea is to create an interdisciplinary program, such as informatics, that would include a core of classes with a heavy emphasis on mathematics, probability, statistics, computing and software development. Incoming freshmen could go through this core in their first two years and could then branch off into another area of study. This other area could be anything from business to liberal arts, and students would use the computing skills they acquired to solve problems in that specific subject.

There isn’t a program at UT that directly teaches students how to apply computing to understand large amounts of data. A degree program like informatics would allow students to have the ability to solve real world problems through information analysis and data management.

Modern technology has allowed for the collection of large amounts of information across the globe but without the proper understanding, these troves of data are meaningless. Data must be processed to provide information that will guide research and future innovations. The new challenge we face today is how to manage and manipulate this data. An informatics program would provide the basic building blocks to solve these new problems.

UT already has a solid foundation on which this program could be built, as it offers many of the needed classes. The Division of Statistics and Scientific Computation in the College of Natural Sciences offers a plethora of interdisciplinary courses. There are also several small pockets of college-specific informatics programs on campus already that would greatly benefit if they were united. This would allow for a more streamlined way for students and faculty who are interested to get into applied computing. And of course, the advanced computing center offers unparalleled resources that students could use.

The beauty of such a program lies in the fact that it would be one of the only pure interdisciplinary programs out there. Its inception would allow for greater collaboration between departments and allow for further advancements in data-centric research topics.

However, an interdisciplinary program of this scale would have to overcome some major hurdles. All of the involved colleges would have to buy in and bury their egos to form an over-arching curriculum. And in time of budget cuts, money is always an issue in determining whether an informatics program would add value to the University. The addition of Stampede, however, shows that both UT and the NSF put great stock in the future of computational science.

Shi is an electrical and computer engineering junior