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I'm student of computer science (BS) and considering computational science as the field to major in for MS program.

I have two questions which might look silly but I'm really confused:

1- Are Scientific Computing and Computational Science fields the same?. In Iran we just have Scientific Computing as an MS program in computer science. After searching for days in Google I saw there were some websites stating that Scientific Computing and Computational Science are the same...

2- Is Computer Science a good major to enter computational science?. We have many courses in Numerical Mathematics, Algorithms, and Programming in CS but it seems like you need good background in physics or chemistry. I feel that it's a major for Mechanical engineers or physicists.

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    $\begingroup$ The line between scientific computing and computational science can be blurred. Since it is an interdisciplinary degree, it borrows a lot from computer science, mathematics, and engineering/science application fields. $\endgroup$ – Paul Sep 14 '14 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ Please separate this into two questions, and give them meaningful titles. $\endgroup$ – David Ketcheson Sep 15 '14 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ David Ketcheson: I'm sorry, but i can't understand what is a meaningful title!? Both of them are general questions about computational science... $\endgroup$ – n.Perception Sep 15 '14 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ Use the first sentence from each sub-question. "Are Scientific Computing and Computational Science fields the same?" is a meaningful title. $\endgroup$ – Ben Thompson Sep 16 '14 at 1:30
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Scientific Computing and Computational Science are the same field. Both involve using computation to answer scientific question through numerical methods.

Almost all technical fields can lead into computational science. Very few people at the end of their undergraduate degree have all the skills needed to be successful in this field. For instance, I got my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, which meant that I had a strong understanding of the physics, but my programming and algorithm knowledge was relatively weak. I had to pick most of this up as I went. For you it would likely be the opposite, with you needing to learn the physics. My experience is that this is not significantly more ground to make up than the average graduate student needs to learn when they join any other (non-computational) lab.

In fact, computational science as a program is actually more common in computer science and mathematics departments, since the engineering and physical science departments are usually more focused on what question is being answered rather than how it is being answered.

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I don't think there are any formal definitions of "computational science" and "scientific computing". However, informally, people often seem to think of "numerically solving PDEs" when they say "scientific computing". This is probably a historical vestige resulting from the fact that this is where much of large scale computing started.

On the other hand, and equally informally, "computational science" seems to be a more recent term and has a wider meaning. It includes the practice of solving PDEs numerically, but also discrete algorithms (for example in computational biology or bioinformatics), questions of software design, etc. It denotes a larger field than just "scientific computing".

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