Careers in Computational Physics
Mathematical computations are an essential component of modern research in particle physics, condensed-matter physics, astrophysics, fluid mechanics, quantum field theory, quantum chromodynamics, and plasma physics. Computational physics jobs involve calculations and formulas. To give another example, in solid-state physics functionals (functions of another function) are used to investigate many-body systems (atoms, molecules, and condensed phases). One can also think of computational physics jobs as work in solving differential equations, calculating integrals, performing Monte Carlo calculations on a computer, solving matrix eigenvalue problems, etc. Computational physics careers appear to be part of theoretical physics, but some consider it to be a separate discipline. Mathematical physics is different from computational physics because computational physics relies on a quantitative theory that already exits. The Journal of Mathematical Physics defines its subject matter as the "the application of mathematics to problems in physics and the development of mathematical methods suitable for such applications and for the formulation of physical theories."
The Office of Science of the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) supports over 40 percent of the basic research in physical sciences in the United States and operates 10 major laboratories, such as the Argonne National Laboratory, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Its Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program promotes careers in computational physics and the use of tools to analyze, model, simulate, and predict complex phenomena important to the DOE. In 2001, it began the Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) program that supports many computational physics jobs. The program is focused on advancing scientific discovery using supercomputers performing trillions of calculations per second (tera-scale). SciDAC projects are aimed at "developing future energy sources, studying global climate change, accelerating research in designing new materials, improving environmental cleanup methods, and understanding physics from the tiniest particles to massive supernovae explosions." SciDAC publishes a journal and has established SciDAC Institutes at four major universities with a total of 13 universities participating in the partnership.