Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
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
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
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
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
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
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
- People and Social Groups Interacting with IT,
dealing with the economic and workforce implications
- Information Management, including data analysis
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
Nanostructures are at the confluence of the smallest
human-made devices and the large molecules of living
Let me cite a few examples from Nano's merger with
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
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
We will also see novel nanomaterials potentially used
to develop nanowires, quantum dots, and biosensors;
photonic crystals; and polystyrene polymers used in
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
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
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.