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A cross-disciplinary melting pot

Learning and networking at the COMSOL
short courses.

By Joe McEntee, group editor, Boston

Earlier this month, I spent a day at the sixth annual COMSOL User Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. For those who don’t know, COMSOL is the company behind the COMSOL Multiphysics software platform for the modelling and simulation of all manner of physics-based systems.

The conference, like COMSOL’s customer base, isn’t short on variety. With more than 350 attendees, 150 user presentations and 20 short courses, the programme ranges across many areas of academic and industrial research, among them acoustics, bioengineering, heat transfer, electromagnetic fields, microfluidics, fuel cells and photonics.

The keynote presentations reinforced the multidisciplinary feel. Thomas Dreeben of US lighting company OSRAM SYLVANIA, for example, explained how his team is using multiphysics modelling to study energy-efficiency improvements in high-intensity discharge lamps that exploit “acoustic streaming”.

Dreeben and his colleagues hope that one day their endeavours will yield an “increase in lamp efficiency over current technology”, and in turn put a significant dent in global electricity consumption – 20% of which is currently used to keep the lights on.

Meanwhile, fellow keynote speaker Mihan McKenna of the US Army Engineer R&D Center put the focus on the here and now – and specifically the use of COMSOL in a disaster-prevention context for civil and military geophysics applications ranging from modelling of water intrusion in levees to evaluating the structural integrity of bridges.

Lest anyone forget, COMSOL is in business to shift product and the wide-ranging scientific programme is ultimately a means to that end. To oil the wheels of commerce, each conference delegate got to play with the pre-release of COMSOL Multiphysics version 4.1, with “enhanced productivity” billed as the headline selling point.

For Bernt Nilsson, COMSOL’s senior vice-president of marketing, the User Conference works on a number of levels, but most important is the “deeper engagement” it provides with scientific and industrial researchers. “This is a cross-disciplinary melting pot where high-end users can come together to network and learn from each other,” he explained.

“We’re seeing more users wanting to present too. It’s become a notable career event because we promote the content so widely. Your presentation in the conference proceedings alone means that it reaches more than 100,000 engineers and scientists worldwide.”

• The proceedings of the COMSOL User Conference will be available in December. Readers interested in ordering a free copy can register here.

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