OHSU Computing Course Mirrors National Trend

12/19/03    Portland, Ore.

Nontraditional computing course offered by OGI School of Science & Engineering professor is first of its kind in the Portland area.

While most computer science courses are practically oriented, a new Oregon Health & Science University computer science and engineering course, beginning Jan. 5, 2004, will discuss computers in terms of physics, biology and a little bit of philosophy.

Registration for "Nonstandard Computation" (CSE/506/606 NSC) is now under way. Go to www.ogi.edu/CSE for more information.

"This is a radically different approach to computing," said Melanie Mitchell, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science and engineering at OHSU's OGI School of Science & Engineering. Mitchell designed and will teach the course on OGI's Hillsboro, Ore., campus. "Most people look at the computer as an information processing device, but it's also a physical device.

"In the class, we'll be looking at the physics of the computer and how such deep ideas in physics -- like the second law of thermodynamics and quantum mechanics -- are relevant to computers. Some of these ideas from physics actually have a lot of promise for future technologies," she said.

Emphasis on nonstandard computation methods and theories, such as quantum computing, molecular computing and the physics of computing, are a big new direction for computer science and engineering departments across the country, but they're just beginning to catch on in Oregon. Mitchell believes her course is the first of its kind in the Portland area.

The graduate-level seminar course requires some background in computer science, however, "no physics background is necessary," said Mitchell. The course can be taken for credit or on a non-degree basis.

Mitchell is uniquely qualified to teach "Nonstandard Computation." She earned a doctorate in computer science at the University of Michigan, and was a research professor at the Santa Fe Institute, New Mexico, directing the institute's adaptive computation program for seven years.

Mitchell is the author of "An Introduction to Genetic Algorithms." Her research centers on intelligent systems, machine learning, evolutionary computation and complex systems. She joined OGI's Department of Computer Science and Engineering in mid-2002. The Department of Computer Science and Engineering is the Northwest's leader in federally funded research.

The OGI School of Science & Engineering (formerly the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science & Technology) became one of four schools of OHSU in 2001.