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Johnson, V. L. & Teuben, P. J. 2003, in ASP Conf. Ser., Vol. 295 Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems XII, eds. H. E. Payne, R. I. Jedrzejewski, & R. N.
Hook (San Francisco: ASP), 370
**

# Teaching Scientific Computing with N-Body Simulations

**Vicki Johnson**

Interconnect Technologies Corporation, Claremont, CA
**Peter Teuben**

Astronomy Department, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

### Abstract:

The classic N-body
problem can be used to teach many dimensions of scientific computing. The
BoF participants were invited to discuss approaches and motivations.

Many undergraduate students are not learning how to program, how to use Unix, or
the basic principles of scientific computing and numerical estimation. The classic N-body
problem can be used to illustrate many dimensions of scientific computing, The
BoF participants were invited to discuss how to use the classic N-body
problem to introduce students to modeling, algorithms, the
development of simple programs to implement basic algorithms, the Unix environment
and open source tools, tradeoffs between efficiency and accuracy,
numerical analysis, visualization and animation, scalability, and supercomputing (e.g., GRAPE cards)
and parallel programming, and interdisciplinary uses of N-body simulations, such as in
computational biology and astrophysics.

The group generally agreed that the N-body problem is a good teaching
tool. As you progress with the N-body problem, opportunities to teach
yourself naturally arise--how to improve accuracy, deal with long run
times and lots of output, visualizing the results, etc. The consensus
was that the N-body problem lends itself well to a simple Java implementation,
which would be a good starting point for young students. An appealing
approach is to make the motions in N-body simulations fun to play with,
by tweaking parameters for spin, rotation and scaling. Above the level
of equations, give students a game-like feel for motions that could be
almost a tactile experience. Wolfram's work shows both complexity and
fun can arise from simple examples. For more information, see
http://www.nbodylab.com/adass2002-bof.html.

© Copyright 2003 Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 390 Ashton Avenue, San Francisco, California 94112, USA

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