APS News

October 2022 (Volume 31, Number 9)

Division of Computational Physics

By Abigail Dove | September 9, 2022

thesan thin graphic
Credit: THESAN Collaboration / thesan-project.com

An extraordinary example of computational physics, THESAN is the most detailed computer model of the first billion years after the Big Bang. To learn about this image, click here.



For centuries, the scientific method has stood on two pillars: experimentation and theory. Researchers conduct experiments and link their observations to theories, which are confirmed, modified, or overturned by new observations.

But today, some research questions in physics rely on a third, much newer pillar: computation. Without it, many recent achievements—from the detection of the Higgs boson in 2012 to the first observation of gravitational waves in 2016—would have been impossible.

With more than 3,000 members, the Division of Computational Physics (DCOMP) is a hub for researchers who lean on this third pillar.

Computational physics exists “in essentially all subfields of physics,” says DCOMP chair Annabella Selloni, a professor of computational physical chemistry at Princeton University.

Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data science are hot topics in the field, where they can be applied to materials design, molecular simulations, and predictions of complex systems. Computational astrophysicists, meanwhile, seek to simulate conditions in stars and galaxies that would be impossible to recreate in a laboratory setting.

Unsurprisingly, then, DCOMP members “identify as computational physicists as much as they identify [with] a particular specialization of physics,” said Marivi Fernández-Serra, DCOMP secretary/treasurer and a professor of computational condensed matter physics at Stony Brook University.

DCOMP began as a topical group in 1986, when personal computers had just emerged. Members joined the new unit in droves, and DCOMP was elevated from topical group to division after only two years, reflecting the rapid adoption of computational approaches in physics research—and the fast evolution of computers. Today, the division is evenly divided between researchers who develop computational methods and those who apply these methods to specific questions in physics.

DCOMP is one of few APS divisions with a presence at both the atomic, condensed matter, and materials-focused March Meeting and the astrophysics, particle physics, and gravitation-oriented April Meeting. At this year’s March Meeting, DCOMP’s sessions covered topics ranging from quantum simulations to many-body physics. At the April Meeting, one session touched on computational stellar astrophysics; another centered on how to integrate computational physics into undergraduate curricula.

DCOMP also helps organize smaller meetings. One of the most prominent is the Conference for Computational Physics (CCP), held every summer in Europe or the US. This year, it was virtual.

Demographically, the division faces challenges. “We would like to see computational physics become much more diverse than it is so far,” says Fernández-Serra. Only 15% of DCOMP members are women, but the tide may be turning: Women hold three of the four main positions in DCOMP’s executive committee.

But prospective members have plenty to gain from joining DCOMP. Students can receive travel grants to attend conferences; and members can nominate speakers and suggest symposia. And all members gain a sense of community, says Selloni: “Membership in DCOMP enables you to network with a broad and diverse group of physicists.”

Visit the DCOMP website to learn more.

Abigail Dove is a writer based in Stockholm, Sweden.

©1995 - 2022, AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY
APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Taryn MacKinney

October 2022 (Volume 31, Number 9)

Table of Contents

APS News Archives

Contact APS News Editor


Articles in this Issue
New Results from MICROSCOPE Mission Tighten Constraints for Key Principle of General Relativity
Q&A: Lia Merminga Has a Vision for Particle Physics
Profiles in Versatility: Physicist to Test Nanoparticle-and-Laser Cancer Treatment in Humans
Gas Particles, Ferromagnets—and Voters?
In Proof-of-Principle Experiment, Researchers Use Tiny Chip to Separate Squishy Cells from Hard Particles
Scientists Create 3D-Printed Model to Study How Particles Move Through Blood
This Month in Physics History
For Women and Gender Minorities in Physics, Community Builds Confidence
APS Announces Recipients of the Fall 2022 Prizes and Awards
Division of Computational Physics
Physics Lab Kits Help Foster the Next Generation of East African Scientists
The Back Page
FYI: Science Policy News From AIP
APS Members’ Advocacy Helps CHIPS and Science Act Become Law