Proof That Pointwise Is Perfect for Professors (and Students)

The effective use of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software poses unique challenges in the academic environment that are not faced in industry. Fortunately, Pointwise is well suited to support classroom, lab, and research uses in ways that minimize the overhead of deploying the software while maximizing its benefits to both professors and students.

Here are the top eight reasons why Pointwise is well suited to our friends in academia.

1. Fully Functional and Fully Supported

Unlike some software made available for academic use, Pointwise licenses are fully functional. There are no limits on mesh size. There are no missing or deprecated features. Students will be using the same software enjoyed by engineers in the workplace while gaining valuable experience for their future professional careers.

As everyone knows, a big part of effective use of CFD software is having a resource for getting your questions answered, and at Pointwise we strive to provide personal, professional technical support. In universities, that role often falls to professors or their graduate students who have higher priority tasks like teaching and research. Professors may rest easy knowing that academic Pointwise licenses are fully supported. That means our technical support engineers can be your students' first point of contact for questions about mesh generation. The free training included with every license is also available to students and professors.

We treat students like the young professionals they are.

mesh topologies to study the aerodynamics of a fairing
Figure 1: With only a few hands-on tutorials, students at West Virginia University were able to generate many different mesh topologies to study the aerodynamics of a fairing.

2. Real Ease of Use

When students, especially undergraduates, need to apply CFD software, it is important for them to not get bogged down in usage issues. They need to focus on learning the salient fluid dynamics lessons. Nowhere is this more true than mesh generation, which sometimes needs to take a back seat to getting a CFD solution.

Pointwise has proven itself time and time again as being easily mastered by students, from the undergraduate level on up. At Ohio Northern University, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and other institutions, Pointwise is used by undergraduate engineers as part of complex, 3D CFD projects with effective results.

ONU's Prof. Jed Marquart told us, “The undergraduate students picked up the Pointwise code very quickly and easily. The user interface is so intuitive and ‘familiar’ that neophyte CFDers were quickly building high quality grids.”

Use of the software by Pointwise's summer interns shows that students can accomplish quite a bit in a limited amount of time. They generate benchmark meshes, write scripts to extend the code's capability, and write plugins to be shipped with the product.

That leads us to the next beneficial aspect of Pointwise for academia - the ability to customize.

3. Uniquely Customizable – Scripts and Plugins

Adaptable software is needed for a research environment where new flow solvers and other techniques are constantly under development. Two feature sets in Pointwise make that a reality: Glyph scripting and CAE export plugins.

Glyph is Pointwise's Tcl-based scripting language and covers 100 percent of the software's functionality. Using Glyph, the meshing process can be customized with macros and templates. Macros encapsulate repeated multi-function command sequences that can then be run as a single command. Templates automate the meshing of a specific class of geometry. Not only are these scripts useful to both faculty and students, but by posting them on our GitHub-hosted Script Exchange ( they are instantly available worldwide.

The Shape Wizard script on the Glyph Script Exchange
Figure 2: The Shape Wizard script on the Glyph Script Exchange is an example of a macro that extends Pointwise's functionality. It was originally written by an undergraduate student.

CAE plugins are a way to customize Pointwise by adding the ability to export grid and boundary condition data to new formats. This is especially handy for the research codes that are constantly under development in academia. Instead of hijacking a vendor's file format and being subject to its updates, the precise file formats needed by research codes can be supported. Plugins can be freely distributed to other users of the research code or submitted to Pointwise for inclusion in the standard distribution.

Lest it be thought that writing a plugin is a complex exercise best left for computer scientists or professors, a Stanford University student had this to say about their experience writing a plugin for the SU2 flow solver: “We used the Pointwise Plugin SDK to write meshes for our open source analysis and design framework, SU2 (Stanford University Unstructured). Right out of the box, it was very clear how to use the SDK because of its simple but powerful structure and a helpful set of example plugins.”

More information about Pointwise's CAE plugins is available on our website,

4. Compatible With All Your Tools

Use of CFD software in an academic setting is not an end unto itself. The goal is not to teach students how to use any particular tool but rather to teach them about fluid dynamics and some of the general issues encountered when applying CFD. Rather than getting trapped in any one vendor's software silo, Pointwise provides plenty of flexibility when it comes to where and how it's used.


The software uses a floating license that operates across the entire network. Pointwise can be installed anywhere and on any of our supported platforms. If grad students prefer Linux because that is where they run their solver, we support that. If undergrads are more comfortable with Windows, we support that. Some folks in academia believe that Mac brings the best of both the Linux and Windows worlds together in a single platform - we support that too.


CAD software is a typical part of engineering instruction. Therefore, it's important to have flexibility on CAD geometry import. Every Pointwise license includes CAD geometry import from the following formats.

  • ACIS
  • IGES
  • NX
  • Parasolid
  • Pro/E
  • SolidWorks
  • STEP

For uses involving faceted rather than analytic geometry, the supported file formats are

  • STL
  • VRML
  • PLOT3D

Flow Solvers

As mentioned above, CAE Plugins are a way to customize Pointwise for specific research codes. For meshing in a class or lab, it's good to know that Pointwise has built-in interfaces to

  • AcuSolve
  • CFD++
  • CFDShip
  • CFL3D
  • CGNS
  • Cobalt
  • COMO
  • DTNS
  • Exodus II
  • FANS
  • FrontFlow
  • GASP
  • INCA
  • Kestrel
  • NCC
  • NSU3D
  • OpenFOAM®
  • SC/Tetra
  • ShipIR
  • Splitflow
  • SU2
  • TASCflow
  • TEAM
  • Tecplot
  • USM3D
  • WIND

This list is constantly growing. (At the time of writing, new CAE plugins are being prepared for the next production release.)

Note also that the list includes our enthusiastic support for open source tools like SU2 and OpenFOAM and standards like CGNS, all of which are quickly becoming very popular in academia.

fillets between densely packed spheres
Figure 3: A Ph.D. candidate at Oregon State scripted the generation of fillets between densely packed spheres.

5. Affordability

Everyone's interested in affordable software but perhaps nowhere more so than universities. Keep in mind that while faculty and students have access to the fully supported and fully functional version of Pointwise, the fee is discounted significantly - nearly 80 percent off the full price.

The real bonus for academics is the Pointwise Teaching Partnership through which professors can get 10 licenses for use in a class or lab for no additional cost. We provide all the software documentation, the training materials we use to teach courses, and sample grid files.

More information on the Pointwise Teaching Partnership can be found on our website,

6. All the Necessary Capabilities

No software is useful in any environment, academic or otherwise, if it lacks critical capabilities. Pointwise has a breadth and depth of functionality that provides the meshing capabilities most useful in a university environment.

  • Support for both analytic and discrete CAD geometry
  • Geometry modeler for basic curve and surface types
  • Two complementary strategies for dealing with complex and sloppy CAD topology
  • Structured quad and hex meshing
    • Algebraic, elliptic, hyperbolic, and extrusion techniques
  • Unstructured tri and tet meshing
    • Modified Delaunay algorithm
    • Advancing front algorithm (isotropic)
    • Advancing normal algorithm (anisotropic)
  • Hybrid meshing
    • T-Rex, anisotropic tetrahedral extrusion technique, for hybrid meshes with boundary layer and wake resolution
    • Zone by zone hybrid meshing
  • Mesh Editing
  • Mesh Import and Export
Quarter Model of a Formula SAE car
Figure 4: Students at the University of Texas at Arlington meshed a quarter car model of their Formula SAE entry as part of a study of the aerodynamic interactions of the wing and tire.

7. Classroom, Lab, and Project Use

Pointwise is used in the classroom for instruction and in the lab for project work. Another place where Pointwise excels is on special design challenges such as those run by AIAA or SAE. Pointwise has supported the SAE Collegiate Design Competitions for many years by providing tools that students can use to improve their designs. This includes both aero and auto applications.

Regarding classroom usage, Pointwise may actually make meshing too easy for students. A typical first application of CFD is the airfoil. There are numerous scripts on the Glyph Script Exchange that automate geometry creation or meshing for the airfoil. Plus, students have the flexibility to generate airfoil meshes with structured grids (several mesh topology options), at least three different types of unstructured meshes, and any combination of hybrid meshing.

Sorry, students, but your professors may start giving you more challenging problems.

8. It's Time to Graduate to Pointwise

If you are ready to add to the 391 academic Pointwise customers worldwide or the 23 teaching partnerships, the place to start is a no-cost, no-obligation trial license. Whether you are in academia or industry, request your demo license today. One of our engineers will contact you to get started.

Free Trial

One thing to be aware of: Due to the high volume of academic evaluation requests, we ask that the request form be completed by a full-time member of the faculty. Of course, the eval can be conducted by a student but we like to get a professor involved in the process from the start.

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