Computing in the classroom

Published in Physics World, 1 Mar 2014

Computer science is essential for modern physics, yet students come little prepared for it. That may soon change, says Jon Cartwright

Particle physics 40 years ago was a slow process. Collisions had to be recorded on black-and-white photographs, which were then pored over by hundreds of technical assistants. This was true even of (for the time) cutting-edge accelerators such as CERN’s Big European Bubble Chamber, which took images every three seconds.

Today it is a very different story. Inside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, for instance, collisions occur every 25 nanoseconds. Data generated at such rates have to be processed by a network of powerful computers around the world. But particle physics is far from being the only field within physics that makes use of high-level computing. From simulating the behaviour of cold atoms to designing control systems for complex equipment, computing has become not an optional but a necessary activity. […]

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