NSF awards $130 million to tackle information technology research for national priorities


120 new projects will advance science and engineering, economic prosperity, national security

ARLINGTON, Va.--The National Science Foundation (NSF) has made awards supporting nearly 120 new Information Technology Research (ITR) projects dedicated to addressing the information technology priorities facing the country -- advances in science and engineering, economic prosperity and a vibrant civil society, and national and homeland security.

The awards encompass principal investigators from 32 states and the District of Columbia and average $1.25 million, with a total estimated funding of more than $130 million over five years. Projects cover a wide range of topics, including interactive ocean observatories and deep-sea exploration; stress corrosion cracking in materials; protection of critical infrastructures; improvements to healthcare processes; and secure access to confidential social science data.

"Over the past five years, the ITR priority area has expanded the scope and size of the nation's research effort in the development and use of information technology," said Peter Freeman, head of NSF's directorate for computer and information science and engineering. "This year's awards, supported by all of NSF's directorates, continue to emphasize interdisciplinary opportunities and the key issues facing our society at large."

For example, as part of a $3.9 million effort, researchers at the University of Washington and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography are designing the cyberinfrastructure required to use and automate undersea sensor networks, both delivery of data from sensors and the control of sensors and networks from land, which will assist in designing sensor networks for conducting research in other remote and hostile environments.

A $2.8 million project of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Johns Hopkins University and MIT is developing the information technology to coordinate a roving corps of autonomous underwater vehicles, which will advance deep-ocean exploration by providing new methods to explore the 95 percent of mid-ocean ridges that have yet to be explored.

Stress corrosion cracking leads to unsafe and unreliable bridges, buildings, aircraft and other structural systems, and a better understanding of the problem could have enormous economic impact. A team of researchers from the University of Southern California, Caltech and Purdue University, as part of a $3.8 million collaborative effort, are developing the technology to conduct atomic-resolution simulations of the premature and catastrophic failure of materials resulting from mechanical stresses and chemically harsh environments.

A number of ITR projects focus on the protection of critical infrastructures. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University received a $2.2 million award to develop new approaches to modeling and controlling the electric power grid. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, are leading a $3.4 million effort to monitor and protect the Internet's Domain Name System, key to maintaining the reliability and stable evolution of the Internet. And in a $2.3 million project at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, researchers are working to develop new collaboration technologies for disaster relief and recovery in urban settings.

Several ITR awards are working to streamline healthcare processes with more effective technologies. Louisiana State University researchers received $904,000 to examine factors that encourage or inhibit medical professionals' adoption of new information technologies and systems, while researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., are leading a $1.7 million effort to develop technologies for analyzing healthcare processes to reduce inefficiencies and medical errors. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, are collaborating in a $775,000 effort to allow cancer radiation therapies to be adapted throughout the treatment process to account for anatomical changes or patient movement.

The globalization of business has taxed the capabilities of today's information technologies. In a $1.2 million effort, researchers from Georgia Tech and MIT are focusing on identifying the basic principles of successful logistics collaborations and supply chain management. And a team from Stanford University has received $1.3 million to study, working in conjunction with General Motors Corporation, how mathematical and computational techniques are changing the process of engineering design and technical and professional occupations in a knowledge economy.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau provide a unique window onto society, but social scientists have limited access to the data due to strict confidentiality requirements. To provide greater access for cutting-edge social science analysis, a $2.9 million project led by Cornell University is tackling the issues required to maintain the confidentiality guaranteed to Census participants, as well as to create synthetic versions of these data sets which are analytically valid but protect the identity of census respondents.

In addition to the social sciences, many areas of biology and other disciplines face challenges in managing and exploiting large data sets. In a $2.7 million project, for example, researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Cornell computer scientists are exploring new techniques for machine learning and mining of natural history data collected by bird-monitoring projects to estimate the abundance of wild bird populations across North America.

2004 marks the fifth and final year of the ITR priority area at NSF. In prior years, the priority area emphasized fundamental information technology research and education, applications in science and engineering and research and education in multidisciplinary areas, focusing on emerging opportunities at the interfaces between information technology and other disciplines.

Over the course of the priority area, NSF has invested more than $1 billion in hundreds of projects, ranging from the large to the small, that have fostered innovative, high-risk and high-return research and education in science and engineering fields enabled by information technology and in the information technology field itself.

"By any measure, the ITR priority area has been a tremendous success for NSF and the academic community," Freeman said. "The community's response to the initiative has ensured that information technology advances will remain a significant and essential element of multidisciplinary research and education at NSF."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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