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Caltech, Penn State Teams Receive $10 Million NSF 'Expeditions in Computing' Awards

Teams led by researchers at California Institute of Technology and Pennsylvania State University have each won Expeditions in Computing awards for fundamental research in computer science.

The awards, administered by the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), will provide $10 million in funding per project over five years, with the aim of supporting "large-scale, far-reaching and potentially transformative research motivated by deep scientific questions," according to Farnam Jahanian, assistant director for CISE. "These two new awards aim to apply our understanding of natural, biological capabilities to the development of revolutionary new computing and information technologies with tremendous potential for societal benefit."

The projects include Caltech's Molecular Programming Architectures, Abstractions, Algorithms and Applications (Erik Winfree, lead PI), in collaboration with researchers from Harvard University; University of California, San Francisco; and University of Washington. The project aims to explore the use of biological molecules as computational tools, joining "computer scientists, chemists, electrical engineers, physicists, roboticists, mathematicians, and bioengineers — all of whom have a strong research interest in the intersection of information, biology, and the molecular world," according to Caltech. "The team will explore the potential of molecular programming from many perspectives."

This is the second such award for the Molecular Programming Project.

The second project is Penn State's Visual Cortex on Silicon (Vijaykrishnan Narayanan, lead PI), in collaboration with researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Stanford University; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, San Diego; University of Pittsburgh; University of Southern California; and York College of Pennsylvania. The aim of the project is to expand vastly the capabilities of machine vision, to "approach or exceed the capabilities and efficiencies of human vision, enabling computers to not only record images, but also understand visual content, at up to a thousand times the efficiency of current technologies," according to Penn State.

Among the potential applications for such drastically enhanced machine vision systems cited by Penn State are aids for the visually impaired, augmented reality, and driver assistance systems.

"Advances in the computer and information sciences drive progress in all areas of science, engineering and education, which positively impacts the U.S. economy, furthers national priorities and bolsters our overall quality of life," said NSF Acting Director Cora Marrett in a prepared statement. "America's future depends on strong and sustained U.S. government support in this area. NSF is proud to fund this next round of Expeditions awards, and in supporting fundamental research, to continue its tradition of enabling the nation to maintain its competitive advantage in information technology."

To date, 16 Expeditions in Computing awards have been granted. Preliminary proposals for the net round of awards are due March 10, 2014. Additional details can be found on the Expeditions in Computing program page.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

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