Computational Astrophysics

Computation has become an essential tool in theoretical astrophysics‭,‬ data analysis‭, ‬and modeling‭, ‬and Princeton is a world leader in the development and application of numerical methods in astrophysics‭.‬

Researchers at Princeton use scientific computation to study an enormous range of physical processes‭.  ‬At the largest scales‭, ‬N-body‭, ‬hydrodynamic‭, ‬and radiative transfer methods are used to study cosmological structure formation‭, ‬galaxy formation‭, ‬and reionization‭ (‬Cen‭, J. ‬Ostriker‭).  ‬This work has helped establish the modern theory of the Lyman alpha forest‭ (‬Cen, J. Ostriker‭).  ‬At the smallest scales‭, ‬particle-in-cell‭ (‬PIC‭) ‬methods are used to follow particle acceleration, kinetic turbulence, and microscale instabilities in dilute astrophysical plasmas‭ (‬Spitkovsky, Kunz‭).  ‬In between‭, ‬a wide variety of numerical methods are used to understand core-collapse supernova explosions‭ (‬Burrows‭), ‬accretion onto compact objects‭ (‬Burrows‭, ‬Spitkovsky‭, ‬Stone), ‬gravitational fragmentation of molecular clouds and star formation‭ (‬Stone‭, E. Ostriker), ‬accretion disks‭ (‬Stone, Kunz‭), turbulent driving and dissipation in the interstellar medium (E. Ostriker) and the solar wind (Kunz), ‬and the light scattering properties of interstellar dust grains‭ (‬Draine‭), ‬just to name a few‭.

‬Astrophysicists at Princeton do not merely run public domain codes‭,‬ but rather they are leading efforts to develop‭, ‬implement‭, ‬and test new state-of-the-art algorithms in many areas‭.  ‬Important methods developed at Princeton include tree-mesh codes for collisionless dark matter‭ (‬Bode, J. Ostriker‭), ‬hydrodynamic and radiative transfer codes to study planet atmospheres‭ (‬Burrows‭) ‬and reionization‭ (‬Cen‭), ‬a variety of‭ ‬grid-based MHD and radiation hydrodynamic codes to study everything from star formation‭ (‬Stone‭, E. Ostriker) to compact-object accretion disks (Stone) ‬to supernovae‭ (‬Burrows‭), ‬and PIC and gyrokinetic codes to study plasma dynamics‭ (‬Spitkovsky, Kunz, Hammett‭).  ‬Members of the department are collaborating in various projects led by F‭. ‬Pretorius in the Princeton Physics‭ ‬department to develop codes to simulate dynamical spacetimes and black-hole mergers‭.  ‬In observational astronomy‭, ‬Princeton is one of the leading centers for the development of the software analysis pipelines for SDSS‭, ‬WMAP‭, ‬ACT‭, ‬and LSST‭ (‬Lupton‭).‬

The department benefits from close ties with the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics and the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering‭ (‬PICSciE‭), ‬which houses one of the most powerful collections of high-performance computing systems at any university in the country‭.  ‬These systems are freely available for use by any on-campus researcher‭, ‬and some of our graduate students have used several million cpu hours per year for their thesis work‭.  ‬Members of the department also have access to emerging petascale systems at DOE, NASA and NSF national supercomputing centers.  ‬Students at Princeton receive a solid education in numerical analysis and software engineering through courses offered in the department‭, ‬and in colloboration with PICSciE‭.‬ A certificate in scientific computation is offered through the graduate school‭.

Department faculty members with major research interests in computational astrophysics: