Additional Background for Prospective CMSE Chair Candidates

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The CMSE department, jointly administered by the College of Natural Science and the College of Engineering, focuses on the synergy among algorithms, computing, and physical, biological, and engineering applications. The department provides an interdisciplinary environment for scientists, engineers and mathematicians to address emergent, high-impact problems in their fields using computational methods. The department actively works to foster a blended environment for science, mathematics and engineering.

Faculty in the department are engaged in cutting-edge research in their fields. Our faculty publish in top journals, and they have won many awards in their fields. Our assistant professors have been highly successful securing major federal grants. Likewise, many of our students have won prestigious national fellowships, and our first few graduates have accepted postdoctoral positions at the nation’s premier national laboratories.

Beyond the CMSE department, MSU offers many world-class capabilities and facilities that can be leveraged in collaborations across the campus. For example, MSU hosts the world’s leading department of Plant Biology, a nationally recognized interdisciplinary group focusing on energy materials, and a national user facility for studying rare isotopes, the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL). Over the next few years, the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) will come online and supersede the NSCL to become the world’s leading rare isotope facility.

The CMSE department is conducting this chair search to find a new leader for the department to guide the growth and development of the department.

The founding department chairperson is accepting other responsibilities on campus, thereby providing this opportunity for a visionary leader.


Overview of the CMSE Department

The CMSE department was founded in 2015. In the four years since its inception, the department has grown and flourished. Here is a current snapshot of the department:Image of Engineering Building at Michigan State University from North-West entrance

  • The CMSE department is part of two colleges, the College of Engineering and the College of Natural Science.

  • The department currently has 35 faculty, with 3 more joining the department in Fall 2019.

    • 22 are Assistant Professors (all new hires to MSU), 3 are Associate Professors, 7 are Full Professors, and 3 are specialists.

    • 10 faculty transferred their appointments into CMSE from within MSU, and 25 are new, external hires to MSU.

    • Nearly all faculty in the department have joint appointments with one of 11 other departments, and a majority of these joint appointments have their tenure home within CMSE.

  • The department plans to grow to have more than 50 faculty.  Searches for additional junior and senior faculty are ongoing.

  • The department offers an undergraduate minor, two graduate certificates, and a PhD program.  In Fall 2019, CMSE will offer an undergraduate BS program in Data Science, jointly with the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the Department of Statistics and Probability.

  • The department expects to have 42 CMSE-only and 31 dual-department CMSE graduate students in Fall 2019.

  • The department currently has 15 postdoctoral researchers.

  • The department has more than 42,000 sq. ft. of renovated space in the MSU Engineering Building.

Below are the department’s current areas of research:
Word art showing areas of research that the CMSE department is involved in

  • Agent-based modeling

  • Algorithms

  • Astrophysics

  • Bioinformatics

  • Biophysics

  • Computational imaging

  • Data science

  • Geology

  • High-performance computing

  • Image analysis

  • Machine learning

  • Optimization

  • Plant science

  • Plasma physics

  • Statistics

  • Topological data analysis


History of the CMSE Department

The CMSE department was founded in 2015 as a joint effort among many departments that recognized an increasing need for education and interdisciplinary research involving computational and data-driven methods. The initiative to form the department was led by a committee of 17 faculty from 11 departments: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Chemistry, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Physics, Plant Biology, and Statistics. These faculty recognized the need for leadership in the development and use of computational methods across all STEM disciplines.

A primary goal in creating the CMSE department was to develop a collaborative environment that brings together researchers from diverse backgrounds to tackle grand-scale challenges. An additional goal in forming the department was to provide an environment that would facilitate and recognize the important contribution to science of producing and maintaining novel software and computing platforms.


Transcending Disciplinary Barriers in Research

MSU has a long history of supporting science that is not simply defined by the boundaries of traditional disciplines. To facilitate growth in these non-traditional areas, MSU has supported joint ventures between departments and colleges. Thirteen departments at MSU, including the CMSE department, are joint departments among 7 colleges; furthermore, most of these departments have faculty with joint appointments in two or more departments. As the CMSE department is one such joint department at MSU, one of its core missions is to transcend traditional academic barriers. CMSE does this by building collaborative, multidisciplinary research teams; by writing open-source, innovative software packages to address scientific and engineering problems; by developing metrics to reward work that lies outside traditional disciplinary boundaries; and by providing a stimulating, interdisciplinary environment for training the next generation of computational innovators.

Image of computing hardwareSome examples of collaborative work in the CMSE department include developing new multi-scale deep learning methods for understanding and predicting quantum excited states by training on ground-state density functional theory data; developing novel ideas in network theory to explain complex diseases such as diabetes; working on new modalities in biomedical imaging by developing physics-constrained deep learning for image reconstruction; and using new methods in the topology of data to understand and predict hurricane formation.

.gif (pronunced "jif") file of a simulation

The CMSE department values the development of community codes, whose development has not traditionally been a priority for academic departments. When we consider the institutions that have historically had the greatest impacts in computational science and engineering, the national laboratories stand out for the open-source codes they have built with multidisciplinary teams of computer scientists, mathematicians, statisticians, computational physicists, chemists and engineers. The CMSE department aims to facilitate the development of such high-impact codes. The department provides information for faculty about how open-source licensing works and encourages them to use this licensing to obtain citations for codes. We also encourage faculty to publish methods papers that explain their codes, in part to facilitate citations of their work. Developing community codes typically requires collaborative efforts, so we document the impacts of codes for our faculty with letters of collaboration, in addition to citations of their codes.

We have built into the department culture the idea of jointness—the idea that it is important to be able to wear two hats: a CMSE hat and another hat in a STEM discipline. Nearly all faculty in the department therefore have joint appointments. We have designed this department explicitly to give our faculty the opportunity to talk from two valued perspectives, the common language we are developing in CMSE, and the traditional language used in their STEM departments. The CMSE department gives a home to computational thinkers from many fields and thus also fosters fertile discussions and collaborations across these fields. To provide an environment for cross-disciplinary interactions with colleagues from the broader community of computational researchers, we have hosted the Frontiers in Computing and Data Science Workshop in 2015, 2016, and 2017; our fourth such workshop will be held in the spring of 2020. In addition to this workshop, MSU has held a series of workshops on Quantum Information Science, most recently in 2018.


Mentoring Junior Faculty and Supporting Interdisciplinary Research

An important, ongoing goal of CMSE is to mentor junior faculty, providing robust support for their career development. This is especially true when their research areas represent thrusts into new areas of study. Because of the department’s rapid build-up and unique culture, it has had to adopt a strong and flexible mentoring strategy. The Colleges of Engineering and Natural Science are also developing rigorous mentorship training, which will aid the CMSE department’s mentoring efforts, as well.

One challenge facing the CMSE department is to ensure that joint appointments with other departments are experienced as an asset by junior faculty, rather than a burden. Toward this end, the CMSE department strives to build a common culture around computational work while respecting the history and traditions of our partner departments, many of which have existed since the founding of MSU.


Providing Innovative Education for the Future

CMSE logoThe CMSE department offers innovative educational opportunities that are aligned with the needs of a 21st century workforce. Many companies and national laboratories wish to hire employees who are knowledgeable about both a specific discipline and computational methods.  All of the department’s degree and certificate programs are designed to teach students about computational thinking; our students are expressly educated in the use of computing to model and study the world around them. Students in CMSE degree programs achieve a high degree of proficiency in model development, critical thinking, data ethics, and computational analysis.
The PhD program offered by the CMSE department is an interdisciplinary doctoral program in computational and data science. This program features a core set of courses in mathematical, numerical and computational methods—numerical linear algebra, numerical differential equations, parallel computing, and the mathematical foundations of data science—and then allows students to choose coursework that builds on this foundation in a way that is tailored to their research interests, for example, by taking graduate courses in physics, applied mathematics, engineering and/or computer science. In addition to completing coursework, PhD students must pass four rigorous subject-matter exams in the areas of the four core graduate CMSE courses and must write and defend a dissertation research plan for their comprehensive exam. The PhD is awarded upon completion and successful defense of their research. Many CMSE students’ dissertation research topics are interdisciplinary, and students’ thesis committees often include faculty from other departments; CMSE graduate students develop both a fundamental understanding of computational methods and deep knowledge of a particular subject area in which those methods are used.

Picutre of a CMSE flipped classroom in actionIn addition to a core set of graduate courses, the CMSE department offers graduate-level special-topics courses in a wide variety of subjects that serve the research needs of the students and faculty in the department. For example, in Fall 2019, the department will offer nine special-topics courses on the following topics: optimization, mathematical reasoning, foundations of computational science and engineering, applied machine learning, programming foundations for bioinformatics, statistical analysis and visualization of biological data, gaps and errors in statistical data analysis, applied linear algebra, and applied calculus for bioinformatics. As a specific example of a special-topics course, in Fall 2018, several faculty in the department jointly offered a course entitled, “Algorithms for next-generation architectures,” which allowed students to explore the next generation of computer hardware (several different types of general-purpose graphical processing units and field-programmable gate arrays) and the software technologies required to use this hardware efficiently. The course encouraged students to think carefully about how to choose and develop algorithms that efficiently use a specific type of hardware to solve their problems. This course, like most graduate and undergraduate courses in the department, was taught in a “flipped” manner: students did substantial reading and other preparation prior to class, and in class, they discussed their pre-class assignments, solved mathematical problems and proofs, wrote software, and analyzed data. This teaching method has been shown to be very effective in a range of undergraduate STEM courses and has also been well received in our graduate courses.

Also at the graduate level, the CMSE department has developed two graduate certificate programs, in Computational Modeling and High Performance Computing. These certificate programs require graduate students to take at least three courses from a list of approved courses offered by the CMSE and other departments. These innovative programs complement graduate students’ degree programs with a set of courses that teach students critical skills in either field and recognize students’ accomplishments in these areas.

To serve the needs of graduate students specifically in the biological sciences, the CMSE department created a Bioinformatics Program, as these students increasingly find themselves needing computational skills with which to analyze large data files in the course of their research. The Bioinformatics Program offers a set of short, modular, introductory courses that help life-science students learn basic skills in computation and bioinformatics. These short course modules teach the skills that life-science students need to be able to take more advanced courses in the bioinformatics or computational area that matches their research needs, and as such, fill an increasingly important educational need.

At the undergraduate level, the CMSE department offers a Minor in CMSE, and starting in Fall 2019, the department, together with Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the Department of Statistics and Probability, will also be offering an undergraduate BS in Data Science. This major will require courses on the following topics from the CMSE, Computer Science and Engineering, Statistics and Probability, and Mathematics departments: data science, computational modeling and data analysis, computational modeling tools and techniques, programming, single-variable and multivariable calculus, and matrix algebra with applications. Two of these courses, “Introduction to Computational Modeling and Data Analysis,” and “Computational Modeling Tools and Techniques,” also serve the needs of students in a wide variety of majors and are becoming increasingly popular, with 193 and 64 students in the 2018-2019 academic year, respectively.

Faculty in the CMSE department are continuously developing new courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, and both the CMSE department and MSU as a whole seek to incorporate evidence-based, effective teaching methods into the design of these and all other courses. The CMSE department strives for the highest level of excellence in educating a part of the next generation of innovators in computational fields.


Collaborative Space and Faculty Offices

The university renovated the former College of Engineering Library into dedicated space for CMSE. This area includes the following:Image of a CMSE office

  • Shared space with seating for postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduate research assistants,

  • Two large conference rooms for large group meetings,

  • Four rooms for small group meetings, and

  • Offices for faculty, with 4 of these offices set aside for dual occupancy by faculty with minority appointments in CMSE.

Faculty with majority appointments in the CMSE department sit in the CMSE department, while those with minority appointments sit primarily in the department in which they have a majority appointment. All spaces have modern furniture and accessories.


About Michigan State University

Michigan State University has been advancing the common good with uncommon will for more than 160 years. A member of the Association of American Universities, MSU is a research-intensive institution with 17 degree-granting colleges. MSU enjoys a park-like campus with outlying research facilities and natural areas. The campus is adjacent to the city of East Lansing and the capital city of Lansing. The Lansing metropolitan area has a diverse population of approximately 470,000. Local communities have excellent school systems and place a high value on education. Michigan State University is proactive in exploring opportunities for employment for dual career couples, both inside and outside the University. Information about MSU's dual career support can be found at Information about WorkLife at MSU and the College of Engineering can be found at  Logo of Michigan State University





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