NSF & Congress
Hearing Summary: House Science Committee's Hearing on Beyond Silicon Computing: Quantum and Molecular Computing
September 12, 2000
Science Committee Looks at Future
Ruzena Bajcsy, Assistant Director for Computer and
Information Science and Engineering at the National
Science Foundation, was lead off witness at a September
12 House Science Committee Hearing on "Beyond Silicon
Computing: Quantum and Molecular Computing."
Dr. Bajcsy noted Richard Feynman's observation that
"there is plenty of room at the bottom," referring
to the research opportunities at the atomic and sub-atomic
realm. The National Science Foundation is currently
supporting a number of researchers who are exploring
physical processes can be exploited as computing substrates
- chemical, biomolecular, optical computing via photonics,
and quantum systems.
While the U.S. currently funds about $30 million in
research in quantum computing, this is up from about
$1 million, only five years ago. Approximately half
of the world's output of research in quantum computing
is conducted in the U.S.
Dr. Laura Landweber, a Princeton University biologist
who collaborates with physicists in her research on
DNA computing, said that a quadrillion molecules,
each functioning as a computer, could be contained
in a glass of water.
Charles Bennett of IBM noted that applications exist
for non-silicon based computing that we haven't even
imagined yet. In order to realize advances, he said,
we need to focus on stable support for long-term basic
research of the type that only the Federal government
is likely to support.
Dr. Timothy Havel of MIT and the Harvard Medical School,
talked about the ability of quantum computing to handle
very complex problems, particularly those whose solutions
grew at an exponential rate.
Chairman Nick Smith pressed the panel for their visions
of where this research would take us in 20 or 30 years.
Witnesses suggested applications for non-silicon based
computing, including cryptography, pharmaceutical
development, protein folding, and data storage and
mining. Dr. Bajcsy suggested that very small computers
would provide portable devises that would enhance
and extend of our sensory capabilities - the vision
of an eagle, the olfaction of a dog, or the hearing
of a rabbit.
Dr. Landwebber noted in closing that we need to support
connections among researchers in chemistry, biochemistry,
physics and mathematics and that the only way to do
this is to encourage cross-disciplinary education
at a young age.