EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Next Generation Computational Modelling

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering & the Environment

Abstract

The achievements of modern research and their rapid progress from theory to application are increasingly underpinned by computation. Computational approaches are often hailed as a new third pillar of science - in addition to empirical and theoretical work. While its breadth makes computation almost as ubiquitous as mathematics as a key tool in science and engineering, it is a much younger discipline and stands to benefit enormously from building increased capacity and increased efforts towards integration, standardization, and professionalism.


The development of new ideas and techniques in computing is extremely rapid, the progress enabled by these breakthroughs is enormous, and their impact on society is substantial: modern technologies ranging from the Airbus 380, MRI scans and smartphone CPUs could not have been developed without computer simulation; progress on major scientific questions from climate change to astronomy are driven by the results from computational models; major investment decisions are underwritten by computational modelling. Furthermore, simulation modelling is emerging as a key tool within domains experiencing a data revolution such as biomedicine and finance.


This progress has been enabled through the rapid increase of computational power, and was based in the past on an increased rate at which computing instructions in the processor can be carried out. However, this clock rate cannot be increased much further and in recent computational architectures (such as GPU, Intel Phi) additional computational power is now provided through having (of the order of) hundreds of computational cores in the same unit. This opens up potential for new order of magnitude performance improvements but requires additional specialist training in parallel programming and computational methods to be able to tap into and exploit this opportunity.


Computational advances are enabled by new hardware, and innovations in algorithms, numerical methods and simulation techniques, and application of best practice in scientific computational modelling. The most effective progress and highest impact can be obtained by combining, linking and simultaneously exploiting step changes in hardware, software, methods and skills. However, good computational science training is scarce, especially at post-graduate level.


The Centre for Doctoral Training in Next Generation Computational Modelling will develop 55+ graduate students to address this skills gap. Trained as future leaders in Computational Modelling, they will form the core of a community of computational modellers crossing disciplinary boundaries, constantly working to transfer the latest computational advances to related fields. By tackling cutting-edge research from fields such as Computational Engineering, Advanced Materials, Autonomous Systems and Health, whilst communicating their advances and working together with a world-leading group of academic and industrial computational modellers, the students will be perfectly equipped to drive advanced computing over the coming decades.

Planned Impact

The proposed centre will produce 55+ PhD students highly trained in innovating and applying cutting-edge computational modelling techniques, and communicating their methods and advances across disciplinary boundaries to academics, industry and the public.


The direct economic impact of the centre and its students will initially arise from the generation of IP, and commercialisation and implementation of the scientific advances produced in the research of the centre. Students will interact directly with industry on a number of occasions, including the summer project, placements and industrial co-supervision; each of those allowing for direct impact within the partner firm, and realisation of step changes leading to economic and societal impact. NGCM students and graduates can be directly involved in this, for example through provision of consulting agreements and creation of spin-off companies - the University of Southampton and its business incubation programme have been rated amongst the best worldwide in generating successful spin-offs.

We expect economic impact to peak first in the NGCM focus sectors including UK aerospace and maritime industry, materials, autonomous systems, medicine and health care, before penetrating into most other fields and boosting wealth creation in general.

In the medium term (5 to 15 years), increased computational skills and the development of a culture of computational professionalism will enhance the efficiency and performance of UK businesses and organisations that employ or interact with alumni of the centre. Former NGCM students who chose an academic career path will help to proliferate modern computational professionalism through their teaching and training of future generations of undergraduate students. The timescales for impact will be accelerated due to the use of and engagement with open sources projects and approaches.


For the academic community there will be threefold direct impact.

First the centre will deliver and train a cohort of highly skilled computational researchers with specialist expertise in engineering and the physical sciences. These researchers will form the core of an advanced computing community within UK research for decades to come, contributing towards the health of the academic disciplines within which they innovate, and developing inter-disciplinary links and networks and fostering multi-disciplinary research areas and communication.

Second, increased professionalism makes computational research very much more effective to conduct, more reproducible, and allows practitioners to fully exploit the potential power of this emerging discipline.

Third, the researchers trained within the centre, and the community they drive, will enhance the knowledge economy by the development of new computational knowledge and techniques, and the scientific advancement that follows from the development of these new and innovative methodologies.


In addition to developing the NGCM cohorts of students, the centre will train non-NGCM CDT students and experienced researchers from industry (for example through participation in the summer academy), and engage more widely with the broader computational community and support computational professional development in and out of academia.


Societal impact of more widely spread computational professionalism and improved computational modelling includes more cost-effective and innovative engineering and science research and development, enhanced health care and quality of life, more effective public services and policies, increased wealth generation and better economic competitiveness of the UK; including the ability to attract investment from global business to the UK due its advanced computational modelling skill base and expertise.

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