IFISS: A software package for teaching computational mathematics

Impact: Awareness and understanding, Technological


Progress in computational mathematics is frequently motivated by the results of numerical experiments. There is a need to enhance teaching and learning for students contemplating research projects in computational mathematics, which is particularly relevant for graduate students working in incompressible fluid dynamics. Developed at The University of Manchester with EPSRC funding, the Incompressible Flow and Iterative Solver Software (IFISS) package is an open-source computational laboratory for the interactive numerical study of incompressible flow problems. The software is currently being used in universities around the world to enhance the teaching of advanced courses in mathematics, computational science, and engineering. Investigative numerical experiments enable students to develop deduction and interpretation skills and is especially useful in helping students remember critical ideas in the long term. IFISS is also an established starting point for developing code for specialised research applications.

The current version of the IFISS software package was released on 2 February 2019. The code is open source, and it can be run from MATLAB (developed by the MathWorks) or Gnu Octave (free software). Through monitoring downloads from the repository at http://www.manchester.ac.uk/ifiss, the software has been shown to have a worldwide reach; the basic IFISS package is downloaded approximately 2000 times annually to IP addresses sited all over the world. A sample of 484 downloads from Manchester over a six-week period between October and November 2018 gives an indication of the geographical spread. Out of these, 217 were to IP addresses in China (93 to Shanghai), 72 were to US sites (Oklahoma, Rice, University of California, Virginia Tech) and 62 to GB sites (mostly Manchester). European countries that had the most download sites were Italy, Sweden, Germany, France and Russia. Other countries that featured prominently in this data sample were Iran, Malaysia, Guyana, Thailand and Taiwan.

Reviews of the second edition of the textbook on Finite Elements and Fast Iterative Solvers (Elman, Silvester & Wathen, 2014) support the case for significant impact; notably “the IFISS package, which can be run using MATLAB, is available … This software is very user friendly, and students can get a much better understanding of certain important properties of discretization techniques and iterative methods by solving the (many) computational exercises given in the book”.
Impact date20052023
Category of impactAwareness and understanding, Technological
Impact levelBenefit