Having spent the past couple of days a the Fuel Cycle Research and Development meeting in Washington DC (Gaithersburg, MD really), there has been a lot of talk about the “Fuel Cycle Simulator Grand Challenge.”
On the one hand this is very, very exciting. It is an opportunity for the DoE to replace a system that doesn’t work. Or at the very least, it is a workflow that does not meet current and expected needs. I have been saying this for years…
…Another thing I have been saying for years is that, ‘Good science is good software development.’ Not everyone believes me; fine. But if you are going to build out a huge code infrastructure you may as well give it the old college try.
I am fearful though. They are calling it a ‘Grand Challenge’ because there exists this permeating belief that:
- Nuclear engineers are not software developers.
- This problem is hard.
- This problem is new.
At the heart of the proposed simulator is classic framework problem that is easily solved by a Model-View-Controller (MVC) approach with good test-driven development around the physical models. And they are far from the first scientists to have a issue with storing and visualizing large amounts of data.
I am fearful because if they choose the wrong API now, it will have effects for years and years to come. (Thankfully, from experience, they seem to recognize this.)
I am also fearful because they are talking about a three-year time frame just to build the framework and maybe some sample physics models . This is the easy part! And every day that you spend debating whether you should be passing an array or a pointer to an array is a day that you are not doing new science and engineering .
So I am excited because it truly is an excellent idea. I am just not sure that it is as VISIONary as they make it out to be. Give me three months, a coffee-shop, and BAM you’ll have the architecture that has been proposed.
The real grand challenge is making nuclear engineers into become software developers.
: It may well take three years to put in meaningful models, but that is science not infrastructure.
: I count views as new science, because without the shiny figure at the end, all you have is a bunch of numbers.