by Charlie Van Loan

From "Engineering Exchange", October 21, 2002, p. 3

My colleagues and I work in three-dimensional space, and I'm not referring to our cubicles or even Upson Hall! The domain I'm alluding to has x-y-z axes that are labeled (1) under-graduate CS programs and teaching, (2) graduate CS programs and basic research, and (3) computing and information science (CIS).

Let me tell you about the "MacArthur point" in this space. Each year the MacArthur Foundation announces a small number of $500K unrestricted "genius awards." The winners this year included a triplet of scholars with Cornell CS connections. MIT economist Sendhil Mul-lainathan was a triple major (CS, Math, Econ) who graduated from here in 1993. Daniella Rus is a Dartmouth professor of computer science and cognitive neuroscience and was a 1995 graduate of our Ph.D. program. Paul Ginsparg is currently a Cornell professor with a joint appointment in physics and CIS. All three have an interdisciplinary focus. The MacArthur accolades are a reminder that creative faculty like this deserve unfettered environments.

Click here for more information about the MacArthur Foundation award.

The CIS initiative with its broad agenda speaks to this as well because of the way it respects colleges without paying too much attention to their boundaries. I think of the initiative as a giant induction coil. There is a core CS research "winding" that sits in the department and an applications-based research winding that is spread out across campus. An electric current in one coil moves electrons in the other. Much of the energy has come from the CIS faculty appointments in linguistics, physics, mechanical and aerospace engineering, science and technology studies, and communications. More CIS appointments are on the way-watch those ammeters!

Departmental contributions to the CIS force field are multiple. We have joint faculty appointments with the business school and the medical school. There is outreach to other universities through the tri-institutional program for computational biology and an ITR contract concerned with high-performance code generation for scientific and engineering applications. CS faculty lead the Cornell Theory Center, the Cornell Financial Industry Solutions Center in Manhattan, the Pro-gram in Computer Graphics, the National Science Digital Library, and the Cognitive Studies Program in the College of Arts and Sciences.

We have two Air Force-sponsored re-search centers that resonate with critical societal needs. The Intelligent Information Systems Institute focuses on applications of artificial intelligence and other areas of CS to a wide range of complex engineering problems. The Information Assurance Institute addresses problems of security and reliability as they arise in networks and distributed systems. Because of our two institutes we are very well positioned to help the country in the aftermath of September 11.

My colleagues are more than ready to meet the data-driven challenges that will confront scientists in the future. Of course, there is nothing new about scientists looking for patterns in data and then building models to explain what they see. The classical example is Kepler drawing conclusions from Tycho's star charts. But there is everything new about how computer scientists are automating the search for these patterns with new algorithms, languages, and systems. Instead of six visible planets and 5000 stars, there are terabyte genomic databases and Google-type archives. We'll need a couple of Keplers for this one, and I want their home to be at Cornell!

The CIS initiative has been extremely beneficial not only to our research programs (expenditures are up 30 percent from last year) but also to our educational programs. The number of outside departments that have representation in the CS graduate field has doubled to six. In the last three years we have created about 18 new courses for grads and u-grads alike. The number of departments that cross-list courses with us has gone from a handful to about a dozen. In both computer graphics and computational biology, we are working on the development of new curriculum and in each of these areas there will be multiple course roll-outs in 2003-04. Last year we established an undergraduate minor in information science in six of Cornell's undergraduate colleges. Now we are looking into the establishment of an information science major and graduate field.

That's it for now. The cubicle is calling!

Published by the Office of the Dean of Engineering Cornell University
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