Wolfram Computation Meets Knowledge

Return of the NKS Summer School

I am lucky enough to find time to blog again about the NKS Summer School. Every year is different (see last year’s post), but some things remain the same. Everyone is very active: students doing homework and developing their projects, the instructors helping them and giving lectures and Stephen Wolfram advising students and doing live experiments.

As Yoda said, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Other sayings appropriate to our task: “Never give up, never surrender,” and “If you fall off a cliff, you might as well try to fly.”

We are always doing something new at the Summer School, often using the latest features of Mathematica, but there is an intrinsic difference this time. We have more students and more instructors than ever before, which makes this brand of intense science even more intense.

The students are from around the country and around the world.

NKS Summer School 2008 participants

Participants’ ages also vary widely this year. One man is in his late 80s, the record age so far. He is a very fit, active person. It is possible commentary on the state of the academic research system that only now, when he is retired and doesn’t have to write grants, does he have time to pursue his research.

This year we have several undergraduate students from NYU. Their interests vary quite a bit, but they all have linguistics in common. They all heard about the Summer School from their professor Ray Dougherty, who was a participant last year.

Everyone has an interesting story, so maybe I should just let them tell their own in their bios, which you will be able to see on our website after the program ends. You can find participants from past years here.

This year’s homework question was to find an interesting cellular automaton from the rule space of radius 3/2 with two colors. It is a somewhat more crowded space than we have used in the past, with only about 65,000 rules. I was a little worried that some students might pick the same ones, but that didn’t happen.

Here is the rule that Enrique Zeleny chose for his homework, 44153:

Enrique Zeleny's NKS Summer School Homework

As usual, we had some live experiments by Stephen Wolfram. He investigated minimal Boolean expressions in one of them. It cannot be overestimated how important these experiments are to our program. The students get to see science done live, with the interruptions and false starts one doesn’t see in college textbooks or in academic papers. These misdirections play an integral role, but are the sort of thing where “you had to be there.” You can read more about the thinking behind these in last year’s blog post and in Stephen Wolfram’s blog post, “Science: Live and in Public”.

There is so much going on, from dawn to dusk and beyond, that it seems like time slows down here. Nevertheless, I feel like it won’t be long before next year’s Summer School.


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