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Dr. Colwell's Remarks


Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
PITAC Remarks

September 25, 2001

Good morning. Our gathering here today reiterates the success of PITAC.

It reminds me of a story of three successful executives on a sailing adventure; the boat sank; and they managed to swim to a desert island where they were stranded. For months, they made the best of it, surviving in their primitive surroundings.

Beach combing one day, one of these survivors found a small glass bottle washed up on the shore. He pulled out the cork and a genie appeared, in a puff of smoke.

In gratitude for releasing him, the genie granted each survivor one wish.

The first said, "Man, I want to be back in LA practicing law." 'Poof,' he disappears.

The second said, "I really miss my brokerage house in Chicago." 'Poof,' she's gone.

The third says, "Hey, I really like it here. I wish my two buddies were back here with me." 'Poof.poof!' Now you know how pleased we are that President Bush extended PITAC's charter.

PITAC's success has nothing to do with genies in bottles. It has to do with--among other things--partnership, leadership, and vision.

We thank you for the very important work you do and look forward to more PITAC magic in the coming months.

The 1999 PITAC report was, as you know, influential in the administration and in congress.

It resulted in significant increases for the federal IT investment portfolio and proved to be very instructive in guiding those investments. As all of us know, NSF has the lead role in ITR, but very clearly not the only role.

Other agencies bring knowledge and perspective to the table that makes ITR a holistic initiative.

We always keep in mind that, even with partners, DARPA has for decades provided core research in computer science.

In light of recent events, if there is the least potential for that research to be diminished, it could cause long-term damage in altering the speed at which ITR can proceed.

The ten challenges presented in PITAC's recent supplement provide strong motivation and argues forcibly for long-term, fundamental IT research.

The National Science Foundation is at the forefront on many of these challenges.

NSF and its partnering agencies support cutting-edge technology for research and thereby enable more of our society to benefit from the IT revolution.

I must say, this meeting to discuss information technology research could not have been scheduled at a more auspicious time.

I am pleased to announce that today, NSF will award more than $156 million for ITR research.

We're granting 309 awards designed to preserve America's position as the world leader in computer science and its applications.

These projects--chosen from more than 2,000 proposals--will bring long-term benefits to the nation.

These awards will advance the frontiers in critical areas important to all of us:

  • Systems Design and Implementation, including human-computer interfaces;

  • People and Social Groups Interacting with IT, dealing with the economic and workforce implications of IT;

  • Information Management, including data analysis and informatics;

  • Applications in Science and Engineering, focusing on simulations and advanced computation; and,

  • Scalable Information Infrastructure, centering on security, "tether free" computing, and "tele-immersion."

The breadth of these awards is truly impressive.

For example, researchers at the University of California-Berkeley will receive $7 million over the next five years to develop a "societal scale" information system.

The project will solve complex problems relating to energy, disaster response, and education.

Computer scientists and associated researchers at Carnegie Mellon, Rice, and Old Dominion universities will develop software for on-line simulations.

These programs will constantly assimilate data from aerodynamics, energy, environment, geophysics, medicine, and many other applications.

Far more accurate predictions will be possible than current technologies allow. Researchers at the University of Kansas will deploy radar sensors in Polar Regions to collect real-time data on ice sheet interactions. Information on near-surface ice layers will be used to estimate recent ice accumulation rates.

The deeper layers will provide a history of past accumulation and flow rates. This innovative research will bring insight into the rising sea levels of the past century.

Moving from a global scale to the Lilliputian world of nanotechnology, Clarkson University in New York will apply advanced IT for solid-state physics research. This includes an education component for young scientists who will help develop ultra-fast quantum computers that use atomic-level processes to replace silicon chips.

Turning now from hardware to software for one last example, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation has accumulated more than 116,000 hours of digitized video interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust.

An ITR award will lead to speech-recognition software for cataloguing this multimedia content, whose multilingual aspect poses special research challenges.

New cross-language search capabilities will have broad implications for "metadata."

These projects illustrate the cross-fertilization between traditional scientific fields and suggest a larger perspective for the growing synthesis of knowledge.

In fact, almost two-thirds of ITR support to date has gone to multi-investigator projects. Computer scientists and engineers are now connected with scientists and engineers from all the disciplines that NSF supports.

The most exciting research seems to be happening where disciplines interface with one another.

Computing also offers us new capabilities to collaborate on research around the globe.

Our recently awarded Distributed Terascale Facility is the critical first component to what Ruzena Bajcsy has bestowed the name, "cyberinfrastructure."

Cyberinfrastructure, as envisioned by Ruzena and her colleagues, calls for a new level of integration of high-end instrumentation, computing and networking, and human-computer interface devices.

The leadership of the science and engineering community will be required to realize our goals in this area, as cyberinfrastructure will not be the assembly of off-the-shelf components or concepts. As we are able to move forward in this direction, we recognize the impact on the scale and complexity of research that will now be feasible.

One of last year's ITR awards illustrates the interface of astronomy and physics. The GriPhyN project--short for Grid Physics Network--provides IT advances necessary for petabyte-scale science like that conducted by LIGO, or the Laser Interferometer Gravity-Wave Observatory. Try saying that three times really fast!

LIGO, the largest project NSF has ever supported, searches for gravitational waves produced by colliding black holes or collapsing supernovae. If those ripples in the fabric of space-time are recorded, they will open up a new window into our universe. The LIGO exploration brings together seven IT research groups and three frontier physics experiments.

In short, thousands of scientists need to perform computationally demanding analysis of data sets in the range of 100 petabytes. Until recently, that scale far outpaced our ability to process data in a distributed environment.

Many other disciplines share a similar need for widely dispersed users to access massive data sets, from projects on the human brain, genomes, satellite weather, and consumer spending.

The software tool kit making this GriPhyN network grid available to researchers across the country was developed at the Univ. of Chicago with NSF support.

GLOBUS--as we have come to know it--is a pioneering example of "middleware" applications that allow 2 or more applications to work together across the Internet.

This provides a solid foundation for Our Middleware Initiative, a key tool to address IT accessibility issues.

Distributed terascale computing will also increase the accessibility of high-performance computing.

As part of last year's ITR investment, we established a "tera-scale system" at the Pittsburgh supercomputing center. Last month's award for "Distributed Terascale Facility" went to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, UC San Diego, Cal Tech, and Argonne National Laboratory.

This bold new facility will provide U.S. computer scientists and researchers in all science and engineering disciplines access to a critical resource.

On-line in the middle of next year, the facility will perform 11.6-trillion calculations per second and store more than 450-trillion bytes of data.

A comprehensive infrastructure, called "TeraGrid," will link the computers, visualization systems, and data of the four sites through a 40-billion bits-per-second optical network.

This capability will catalyze a whole new range of potential across all of science and engineering, such as storm and earthquake predictions and more-efficient combustion engines.

I cite these examples ("coal to Newcastle," perhaps) to emphasize that not only do we find IT permeating all of science and engineering, we also can trace information technology as a common thread through NSF's other research priority areas.

With new tools provided through information technology research, we're now studying complexity at multiple levels, from nanotechnology to global ecological observatories, and vantage points in between.

Our new approach for studying our world, biocomplexity, is an interdisciplinary view of the complex interactions in biological systems, including humans--and between these systems and their physical environments.

We know that ecosystems do not respond linearly to environmental change. Tracing the complexity of the earth's environment is profoundly important to the future of life on our planet, and information technology is critical in order to create a complete picture.

Our new nanoworld offers complexity on another level. One nanometer--one billionth of a meter--appears to be, for the time being, a magical point on the dimensional scale.

Nanostructures are at the confluence of the smallest human-made devices and the large molecules of living systems.

Let me cite a few examples from Nano's merger with ITR.

As circuits etched into silicon chips continue to shrink in size, the technique will soon bump up against the physical limits of conventional microelectronics.

We'll "run out of physics," so to speak. This could happen as soon as ten or twenty years from now.

Enter nanoelectronics: Last month, IBM announced that its scientists had built a computer circuit from a single molecule--from a carbon nanotube, in fact. The hope is, eventually, to use such nanotubes to increase the density of transistors in a computer processor by a factor of 10,000.

Then there are nano-wires 10,000 times thinner than a human hair. Packed into arrays, they offer fantastic potential for data storage. Imagine a disc the size of a quarter able to store 25 DVD-quality digital movies.

More broadly, we have begun to discover surprising phenomena that reveal themselves only in the nano-world.

I've brought a short video illustrating NSF-funded research from the nano-world.

The images may look as if they came from the brush of an artist dabbling in abstract expressionism, but they actually represent the different paths of nano-research.

The video first takes us on a journey through the human body to the appropriate scale.

With that context in mind, we will see images depicting electron flow, and novel nanoscale magnets and structures used for information storage, communications, and sensor technologies.

We will also see novel nanomaterials potentially used to develop nanowires, quantum dots, and biosensors; photonic crystals; and polystyrene polymers used in prosthetic research.

Now, let's see the video.

In the dimension of the very tiny, matter often behaves in mysterious ways. Discoveries here hold staggering possibilities to transform our larger world.

We've all believed that we have been living through an IT revolution, but you, as members of PITAC, understand that the revolution is on the cusp of its own revolution. Other fields of science and engineering will push ITR the way information technology research pushes all other disciplines. We will see a catapulting influence from nanotechnology and other burgeoning areas of science.

The explosion of information technologies has transformed science and engineering, from the nanoscale to global networks of interdisciplinary teams.

While these multi-disciplinary teams are increasingly important, we must remember that research results also come from the work of individuals. NSF's support to individual investigators will remain a central focus of CISE programs. The nature of our "core" programs will continue to change with the challenges faced by broader society.

For example, to build a secure and reliable system for today's highly connected society, we are soliciting proposals for a new "trusted computing" competition. The program will fund innovative research in all aspects of secure, reliable information systems. Other promising areas of research include "revolutionary" computing technologies to supercede silicon chips, and "bio-info" interface activities to merge natural and artificial information processing systems.

However, the bottom line is that we all work for a greater good, the enlightenment produced by discovery and learning.

That search for knowledge is at the core of NSF's mission. As we enter a period of uncertain times for our country and our economy, and perhaps for the funding of science and engineering research and education, the reports and deliberations of groups like PITAC are not only useful, but will be indispensable in our efforts.

You help us focus on the farthest most reaches of the frontier and bring that knowledge to the everyday. Once again, thank you for your excellent work. I shall be happy to answer any questions.



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