JuliaCon BoF discussion session: Building a Chemistry and Materials Science Ecosystem

The second event I co-organised at this year's JuliaCon (see this article for the other) was a Birds of Feather (BoF) discussion session titled Building a Chemistry and Materials Science Ecosystem in Julia. In this session Rachel Kurchin and I wanted to gather the various stakeholders working on Julia codes for chemistry and materials simulations and discuss possible overlaps and plan future joint efforts.

This has been the first time a meeting dedicated to this scientific field has been conducted within the Julia community and so we were quite curious about who would turn up. In the end we had a pretty mixed crowd consisting of Julia users tackling research problems in chemistry and materials as well as plenty of maintainers of various Julia packages related to the field, but also some veteran Julia users joined the discussion. This mix of people provoked a rather rich and lively debate about the perspectives of Julia in this respective field and the 90 minutes which were given to us passed almost in an instance.

A central discussion point within the session was the need for joint interfaces shared amongst the key packages of the ecosystem both to leverage Julia's unique composability between the various packages and to furthermore enhance the interoperability and lead to a good user experience. As many have pointed out during the session, a good first step is the design of an interface for representing the structure of the chemical system or the material to be studied. In particular this would allow to deveop unified approches to share data between packages, setup calculations and plainly compare between different approaches. Additionally annoying aspects such as file parsing, data export, plotting or other post-processing could then be easily implemented once using the general interface and used by everyone in the Julia community. Naturally a time slot of 90 minutes is just about sufficient to get the discussion started and scratch the surface, so the session has not yet yielded anything conclusive. However, following up from the conference the debate has definitely intensified amongst participants and I would not be suprised if some progress will be made.

In case you are interested to participate in these developments or plainly want to get in touch with Julia users and developers from chemistry, molecular or materials science, here are a number of relevant resouces: