- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Mar 05, 2000
Ask Ruzena Bajcsy what she likes to read, and expect her to leap to her
feet and grab a hefty book from the shelves in her office. On this occasion,
"The Universal History of Numbers: From Prehistory to the Invention of the
Computer" by Georges Ifrah has her excited.
But why stop with a little light reading? Bajcsy, the assistant director
of the Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate at the
National Science Foundation, is also trying to educate herself about biology
so she can understand how the brain carries out computation. She wants to
apply that processing ability to new computing methods.
Bajcsy is a University of Pennsylvania professor trained in electrical
engineering and computer science. As a pioneering machine perception researcher
and the founder of Penn's robotics laboratory, Bajcsy has advanced the fields
of human-centered computer control and artificial intelligence. In short,
she designs machines that can see and manipulate objects.
By delving into as many disciplines as possible, Bajcsy figures she
can keep up with new developments in and applications for technology. In
turn, she can help NSF encourage the next generation of researchers develop
ever-more beneficial devices.
"As far as I'm concerned, I have made it — my life, my career — but
I always worry about how I can help the community," said Bajcsy, a native
of the former Czechoslovakia. "As an immigrant, I am extremely grateful
to this country for the opportunities I got; that as a woman scientist I
got the opportunities I got. Accepting this job is a payback," she said.
When Bajcsy became chairwoman of Penn's computer science department in 1989,
her dean was Joseph Bordogna, now deputy director of NSF. Bajcsy's interest
in multiple disciplines makes her a successful researcher, Bordogna said.
"To bring that engineering capacity in a general way to computer science
is hard to find," Bordogna said. "That's important because what we're trying
to do is look across a broad swath of technologies and integrate them in
some way. When you think of doing that in a leadership way, Ruzena has all
Bajcsy probably would shrug off the compliment, but she does acknowledge
her amazing luck of being in the right place at the right time.
As luck would have it, President Clinton budgeted a record increase
for NSF in his fiscal 2001 budget proposal. A large part of that money would
be used to promote information technology research and NSF's leadership
"It is lucky that IT is having such an impact on our economy," Bajcsy
said. "The arguments [for funding] are not hard to make. My biggest concern
is how we use the money and fairness."
Doling out the money to academic researchers fairly will be the tough
part if the NSF's $4.5 billion funding request for 2001 is approved. The
proposal to increase the agency's budget 17 percent — an increase of $675
million — above the fiscal 2000 operating budget would double the largest
increase in NSF's 50-year history. In 2001, the NSF portion of the multiagency
Information Technology Research program would be $327 million, compared
with $126 million for fiscal 2000, for initiatives in computer system architecture,
information storage and retrieval, connectivity, scalable networks, and
new approaches to computation.
For the next few years, NSF's IT research funding will be available
exclusively to universities because the agency is focused on combining research
with training a 21st-century work force skilled in information manipulation,
information security and other areas of computer science, Bajcsy said.
NSF is partnering with the National Institutes of Health, which needs
a work force trained in IT as the medical field changes from observational
to analytical biology. An indication of the trend toward biotechnology is
the increase in the past 10 years in the number of requests from biologists,
cosmologists and astrophysicists for NSF's computing resources, said Robert
Borchers, director of the Division of Advanced Computational Infrastructure
and Research in Bajcsy's directorate. Borchers is responsible for a solicitation
due this April for terascale computing, which will help meet the increased
demand by providing better and faster computing power.
Noted for her interdisciplinary training, Bajcsy believes that future
advances may not come from computers themselves but from the new applications
in meteorology and medicine that affect people's daily lives. Her personal
goals are as fundamental. "I remember one time, about 15 years ago, we asked
her what's her lifelong dream," Bordogna said. "She wants to have a robotic