Computing Roundtable Builds Interdisciplinary Community

Zoom conference screenshot

At last week’s Duke Computing Roundtable, Amanda Randles opened her talk by explaining that her research was inspired by a suggestion a Duke colleague made at a similar event a few years before. It’s the exact kind of impact the roundtable's conveners hope to expand in the coming years.

Sponsored by the Department of Mathematics and the Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke, the event brought together faculty, researchers and graduate students from across the university who have an interest in computational questions.

Randles, the Alfred Winborne and Victoria Stover Mordecai Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences with appointments in the departments of Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science, was joined by colleagues from the departments of Chemistry, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Physics and Radiation Oncology.

“We know computing is everywhere,” said Hongkai Zhao, professor of Mathematics, in his opening remarks. “The main goal of this event is to provide a platform for our people to highlight their work and, more importantly, exchange ideas and, most importantly, collaborate in the long run.”

“When we tend to talk about interdisciplinarity at Duke, we tend to talk about it in solutions to a problem, not interdisciplinary communities that solve many problems,” explained James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Jonathan Mattingly after the event. He said the roundtable attempted to take the latter approach.

With speakers covering diverse topics ranging from protein folding and blood flow to the composition of glass, optimization problems in oil exploration, interpretable AI and even art restoration, the speakers did not share a particular topic. Instead, all of their topics involve complex computational problems.

“All those people have a commonality,” Mattingly said. “Interacting with each other is useful. I think of it as the horizontal layer of interdisciplinarity.”

To further strengthen that research community, Mattingly and his colleagues plan to convene two roundtables each semester. The events will emphasize Duke researchers, but may also include experts from outside of Duke.

At a discussion during the Computing Roundtable, the participants also decided to create a resource to help graduate students and postdocs find computation-focused courses from all of the relevant departments.

Those interested in joining future events should contact Mattingly (, Jianfeng Lu (, or Hongkai Zhao (