University Scientist Chairs National Meeting on Computer Programming Language

Johnny Lin
Professor Johnny Lin

Johnny Lin leads 'Python' symposium at New Orleans meteorological meeting

CHICAGO (January 18, 2012) – A North Park University physicist is chairing a national meeting this month devoted to Python, a fast, powerful and versatile computer programming language growing in popularity among people working in the atmospheric and oceanic sciences. The symposium and two short courses in uses of Python are part of the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), Jan. 22-26, in New Orleans.

Dr. Johnny Lin, professor of physics, will teach an introductory short course on Python, and chair the New Orleans symposium, at which scientists from around the country will present papers highlighting the programming language's use in modeling and analysis. Last year, the AMS annual meeting was the site of the first Python symposium which Lin also chaired. Lin, who uses Python in his own teaching and research work at North Park University, helped write the proposal to AMS to create the symposium. At that time, there were virtually no scientific meetings in the atmospheric sciences to discuss Python. Colleagues formerly at the University of Chicago, where Lin did postdoctoral studies, and Lawrence Livermore (Calif.) National Laboratories, worked with Lin to organize the symposium.

The AMS symposium is a place where users can call attention to Python "as a real platform for doing scientific work in the atmospheric sciences," Lin explained.  Speakers will share Python techniques and ideas, help build a support community for users, and help grow the language as an atmospheric sciences programming platform, he said.

North Park University also teaches the Python programming language in beginning computer science classes, in part because it's easier for students to learn and apply to other programming languages.

Alan Iliff, North Park University professor of computer science, said he first began teaching the programming language five years ago after a University computer science alumnus suggested he look into it. Students learn how to write computing programs faster using Python, he said. "It's very easy to write programs with Python. What makes it a good teaching language is what makes it popular for programming," he said.

"A real solid approach in teaching computer science is to teach the things that won't change – in Python we teach things that are quite similar in other programming languages. After I use Python first, then I use Java (or another programming language) in the next semester," Iliff added.

Python is also part of the "open source" movement, which allows users access to information about the product's design so they can contribute ideas to its improvement, Iliff said.

Programmers have used Python for nearly 25 years, Lin explained, and the recent development of scientific computing packages in the language has helped increase its use among atmospheric scientists. This has given atmospheric scientists the ability to do their scientific work and couple it with a variety of other computer-based tools and interactive applications, making the science more useful. Python is the "critical glue" that makes it all happen, Lin said. "It's more versatile than anything that atmospheric scientists have used traditionally."

At the New Orleans symposium, a notable expert in the field will speak, Lin said. Already, planning has begun for the 2013 Python symposium at the AMS meeting in Austin, Texas.

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