Wolfram Computation Meets Knowledge

Wolfram Summer School


Cristian Opazo

Summer School

Class of 2004


Cristian Opazo works as an academic computing consultant at Vassar College in New York, developing and managing various research and teaching projects with faculty across the science departments. He also holds an adjunct position in the Physics and Astronomy Department, where he teaches computational methods to science undergraduates, focusing on modeling and visualization of dynamical systems. Cristian did graduate work in experimental particle physics working for the DZero experiment at Fermilab. He earned a master’s degree in physics from Michigan State University in 2000.

His main interest in NKS is bringing the study of simple programs into existing college-level science curricula. He is currently developing a new course based on NKS concepts and methods. He is specifically working on a comprehensive cellular automaton model for fluid dynamics and turbulence.

Cristian was born and raised in Chile, where he got his B.S. degree in physics and a passion for teaching. He also enjoys traveling the globe, writing, and dancing the tango.

Project: Integrating the Study of Simple Programs into an Existing Computational Methods Course at a Liberal Arts Institution

The concepts and methods involved in the study of simple programs as outlined in the NKS book require a rather dramatic rethinking of well-established paradigms such as the scientific method and the universality of mathematics, which makes its study a highly nontrivial endeavor. On the other hand, it can be pointed out that even the first approaches to the “NKS way of thinking” involve very essential and attractive methodologies. The fact, for example, that when we study the behavior of the basic set of elementary cellular automata we are actually dealing with a very manageable and finite set of objects, provides the student, researcher, and experimenter with a compact framework unlike others within the traditional sciences.

The key question in regards to NKS in education, as formulated by Stephen Wolfram during this summer school, is “to decide what is the set of basic principles that should be the fabric of scientific education.” Considering the numerous paradigm shifts in the history of science, how should we, as educators, eventually confront a new one?

This is why I recognize the environment of liberal arts education as a very fertile ground for the spreading of these concepts, particularly amongst younger underclassmen. In my experience as a lecturer in experimental and computational physics, I have seen, year after year, that the most successful students in my computational methods class are mostly those who have very little or no previous programming experience. I interpret this fact not as much as a conceptual conflict in the learning process, but rather a procedural one, for some students tend to replicate the methods previously learned.

During this year’s NKS Conference some initial efforts in relation to educational projects were presented, mostly in the context of K-12 education. A systematic, serious approach at college-level education is needed, and that is what I intend to focus on. As a first example, I will be studying the two-dimensional cellular automaton model for fluid dynamics and turbulence, a system that has not been fully implemented in Mathematica.

Favorite Two-Color, Radius-2 Rule

Rule chosen: 1522545636

Wolfram Summer School | Champaign, IL, USA | July 3 29–July 22, 2022