NSF pumps millions into computer science

The National Science Foundation awarded the first grants today to promote

advancements in computer science under its Information Technology Research

(ITR) program.

Sixty-two large projects funded at about $1 million a year for three

to five years and 148 smaller projects funded at $500,000 or less for up

to three years were chosen from more than 1,400 proposals.

"This was a very stiff competition," said Michael Lesk, division director

for Information and Intelligent Systems at NSF. "It's important for us to

stay ahead as a country."

The ITR awards stress computer science enhancement, such as how to produce

reliable software, how to build interfaces to help disabled or elderly people

access computers and how to advance quantum and DNA computing, Lesk said.

NSF already has started soliciting proposals for the second round of

ITR awards, which will focus more on applications of IT, he said. NSF's

ITR budget request for fiscal 2001 is $190 million. The legislation is slated

for Senate debate today.

The areas being studied by national universities are somewhat risky

and typically are not funded by industry, Lesk said.

"We won't know for several years what will pay off," Lesk said. "The

point of federal funding is to deal with the underlying science."

NSF's strategy to support long-term, high-risk research responds to

direction from the president's Information Technology Advisory Committee,

according to an NSF statement.

Projects focus on IT problems within government and in general, Lesk

said. For instance:

* Improvements in data resource sharing will benefit digital government


* A University of Pittsburgh human/computer interface study will use

advanced vision technology to develop personal robotic assistants that could

help elderly people live more independently.

* The University of Illinois will design middleware to optimize the

efficiency and fault-tolerance of network-based computer programs for air

traffic control, smart highways, satellites, remote surgery and electronic


Other studies will look at the impact of IT funding on policies in different

countries, explore the use of open-source software and look at how the reliability

of the air traffic control system can be improved, Lesk said.

NSF plans to improve the base of IT researchers through the program

as well. "We placed very heavy stress on educating students to try to help

create more researchers," Lesk said.


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