Back when Foresight was started in 1986, nanoscale simulations were regarded as quite radical. They were still regarded as pretty radical when we set up the Foresight Institute Feynman Prize and included Theory — often, simulation – as one of two categories along with Experiment.
Those days are long gone. Science Daily reviews the critical role of modeling in nanotechnology today:
Taking issue with the perception that computer models lack realism, a Sandia National Laboratories researcher told his audience that simulations of the nanoscale provide researchers more detailed results — not less — than experiments alone…This change in the position of simulations in science — from weak sister to an ace card — is a natural outcome of improvements in computing, Fang says…
There is also the matter of cost, says Fang: “With smart people developing numerical methods, models, and algorithms to use computers to study real cases, we find we can rerun calculations merely by changing computer parameters. Thus the cost to push science forward is much cheaper than running experiments — particularly in nanoscience, where the realm is so small that experiments are difficult to perform, testing devices are not available, and data acquisition is a challenge.”
For all these reasons, he says, “This is why at CINT [the Sandia/Los Alamos Center for Integrated Nanotechnology, funded by DOE’s Office of Science], theory and simulation is one of its five thrusts. People view modeling and simulation as a critical component of nanoscience.”