UCL News


UCL in the News: Going with the flow

17 July 2008

John Murphy, 'Scientific Computing World' Peter Coveney was an early pioneer of using computational methods to connect the behaviour of matter on a small scale to the observed macro properties of fluids.

This has set him on the road to making simulations that are so large scale they are capable of describing the behaviour of an entire system. From his first simulations of fluid flow for the oil industry he has moved on to simulations of blood flow in the brain and beyond, he hopes, eventually to the whole human body. …

Coveney is Professor of Physical Chemistry at UCL and founding director of its interdisciplinary Centre for Computational Science, as well as being an Honorary Professor of Computer Science at UCL. …

He started becoming interested in science at the age of 11 or 12 when he started wondering why things happened, like why water evaporated. He also had a go at some amateur experimental chemistry in his garden shed. …

He was later to co-author a popular science book called The Arrow of Time with a former Oxford colleague, Roger Highfield, who went on to become science editor of The Daily Telegraph, a leading UK national newspaper. This book is regarded as credible by fellow scientists as well as being a commercial success.

In 1995 he published another book with Highfield called The Frontiers of Complexity, which explored the subject of complexity through mathematics, number and game theory, and computer systems to the latest research on complex biological systems.

Coveney set up a Centre for Computational Science at Queen Mary to look at ways that his approach to modelling could be applied to wider fields, particularly the emerging world of computational biomedicine.

As much as he loved Queen Mary, after three years a position came up at UCL. He says: 'I moved here, because the general level of excellence in academic research and the culture of working across disciplines are very strong here and the culture is more aligned to that. It has a close relationship with several hospitals.' …

His research group upped sticks and transferred to UCL in 2002 where the group has grown considerably. It has also become involved in larger and larger modelling projects. The availability of larger grids has made 'whole system' modelling feasible for the first time in recent years and Coveney has been at the forefront of this work. …

He believes that modelling and simulation, in particular the new whole system (integrative) approach, has so much to offer all fields of science at the moment that the principle task he has is persuading scientists in other fields to embrace this approach.

He says: 'The main thing is that, given the immense computing power available these days, we are able to address problems outside the conventional domains; but the medical research funders, for example, do not yet have a full understanding of what can be done with these resources, so the opportunities are there to be explored. Some fields of research are not as familiar with using modelling and simulation and so we need to make the case to them.'