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January 1993


The recently completed "Computers: the Machines, People, and Careers" workshop at Caltech exposed 120 high school students to the applications and career opportunities of computational science. The annual two-day workshop, held each spring for minority students recruited from math and science magnet schools throughout the Los Angeles area, has grown steadily and refined its curriculum since it was initiated four years ago.

The theme of this year's workshop, "Computer Concepts in the Electronic Age," was designed to demystify such terms as software development, open systems, processing speed, and the Internet. The students were divided into small groups to learn about specific areas of science and engineering in which high-performance computing is particularly useful. More than 25 Caltech professors, postdoctorates, graduate students, and speakers from outside institutions and industry explained how parallel computers help solve complex mathematical formulas, explore the universe, make sense of data collected from Mars space probes, analyze financial market behavior, and even predict weather.

Vince McCoy, a chemistry professor and former Intel employee, spoke about how chemical engineering has helped make microprocessors smaller, faster, and more powerful. CRPC associate Dan Davis showed several students the supercomputer Intel Paragon housed at Caltech. Graduate student Adam Rifkin demonstrated the eText hypertext learning system, while CRPC researcher Mani Chandy introduced students to his popular annual "sorting race" game. In another game, students used calculators to determine averages for sets of numbers. They discovered that by using multiple calculators simultaneously, or working in parallel, they were able to significantly speed up their calculations.

Jim Muldavin, one of the workshop organizers, indicated that future workshops may include off-site videoconferencing to reach even more minority students interested in science and engineering. In addition, he is working with schools and foundations to encourage the establishment of community-based centers where students can be trained on an ongoing basis to operate computers and navigate the Internet. For more information, contact Muldavin at 916-443-2229.

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