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All Science Is Computer Science

All Science Is Computer Science - All Science Is Computer...

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March 25, 2001 All Science Is Computer Science By GEORGE JOHNSON xcept for the fact that everything, including DNA and proteins, is made from quarks, particle physics and biology don't seem to have a lot in common. One science uses mammoth particle accelerators to explore the subatomic world; the other uses petri dishes, centrifuges and other laboratory paraphernalia to study the chemistry of life. But there is one tool both have come to find indispensable: supercomputers powerful enough to sift through piles of data that would crush the unaided mind. Last month both physicists and biologists made announcements that challenged the tenets of their fields. Though different in every other way, both discoveries relied on the kind of intense computer power that would have been impossible to marshal just a few years ago. In fact, as research on so many fronts is becoming increasingly dependent on computation, all science, it seems, is becoming computer science. "Physics is almost entirely computational now," said Thomas B. Kepler, vice president for academic affairs at the Santa Fe Institute, a multidisciplinary research center in New Mexico. "Nobody would dream of doing these big accelerator experiments without a tremendous amount of computer power to analyze the data." But the biggest change, he said, was in biology. "Ten years ago biologists were very dismissive of the need for computation," Dr. Kepler said. "Now they are aware that you can't really do biology without it." Researchers have long distinguished between experiments done in vivo (with a living creature) and in vitro (inside a glass test tube or dish.) Now they commonly speak of doing them in silica — as simulations run on the silicon chips of a computer.
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