This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Computational "wish list" developed

Published: April 7, 2005

Contributing Editor

For More Information

go to the UB2020 website

More senior-level faculty members, grant writers to help researchers win larger grants and additional highly skilled staff—including computational scientists—to act as a bridge between researchers and the latest computing technologies were on the "wish list" of faculty members meeting on March 31 to discuss how to position UB as a leader in information and computing technology.

Among other steps they said need to be taken to achieve that goal are increasing involvement of students in information technologies across departments, establishing information-literacy standards or core-competency courses and an increased emphasis on student access to information technologies beyond the personal computer.


An unusually multidisciplinary group of more than 100 faculty members attended the information and computing technology "envisioning retreat," the second of numerous envisioning retreats planned for this semester to focus on how to best position the university in each of specific areas of strategic strength identified by the UB 2020 strategic planning project.

The next retreat scheduled will focus on literary, textual and cultural studies. It will be held from noon to 5 p.m. May 3 in 120 Clemens Hall, North Campus. Retreats for clinical sciences and experimental medicine, and civic engagement and public policy have been postponed. The Reporter will announce the dates, times and locations of those retreats once they are rescheduled.

"We want to empower you," Satish K. Tripathi, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, told the group attending the information and computing technology retreat, which included geographers, civil and industrial engineers, marketing professors, social scientists, media-study artists and, of course, computer scientists.

"This is not a top-down approach," he stressed, advising participants to be "freethinking" in their input.

The four-hour meeting in 120 Clemens Hall, North Campus, began with a presentation by Venu Govindaraju, professor of computer science and engineering and director of the Center for Unified Biometrics and Sensors, who was a member of the coordinating group for the retreat.

Govindaraju outlined the four foci of excellence that had been established for the area of information and computing technology by the UB 2020 Academic Planning Committee:

  • Computation, simulation and modeling, described as broadly multidisciplinary, covering more than 25 academic departments and for which the Center for Computational Research provides critical infrastructure

  • Information assurance, or cybersecurity

  • Trusted and pervasive computing, the emerging idea that the computer will "disappear" into a web of intelligent devices embedded in everyday objects

  • Virtual architecture, including technologies such as smart sensors and smart rooms.

"Now we are all at the table," Govindaraju said, noting that these foci should serve as the starting point for faculty discussion.

Faculty members were divided into four groups for breakout sessions to discuss three topics, the first focusing on disciplinary areas at UB that require computing and information technology.

Some areas that received significant attention, in addition to those defined by the committee, included computational chemistry; hazard response and assessment systems; virtual architecture; large-scale issues in health care and biology; visualization, especially of multidimensional datasets; computer games; homeland security and fraud detection; and geographic information science.

The groups then tackled identification of fundamental research that would best support those disciplinary foci and distinguish UB.

"Do these areas need fast networking, or ubiquitous computing, for example?" asked Russ Miller, UB Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, director of the Center for Computational Research and a member of the coordinating committee. Miller noted that those and many other requirements are all research areas in and of themselves, rather than commodity items that can be purchased off-the-shelf.

Artificial intelligence; networking; visualization; data mining; data fusion; algorithm design, especially for parallel architectures; rapid prototyping and fabrication; informatics; and human/computer interactions were among the research topics mentioned by several of the groups.

The final question discussed was "What are the resources that are required to attain excellence for the areas identified in questions one and two?"

Among the personnel resources mentioned were targeted faculty lines to fill specific needs and more highly skilled staff; for example, computational scientists to function as bridges between researchers and the latest computing technologies.

The need to hire senior-level faculty with proven track records and name recognition was endorsed enthusiastically.

Faculty hiring must be at the associate and full-professor level, it was argued, because, by necessity, junior-level hires must concentrate on tenure and other responsibilities during their early years at the university.

Increased support for doctoral students also was mentioned as critical, as was the idea of an academic computing governance structure responsible exclusively for research support.

In addition to CCR, which supports computing infrastructure, attention was given to the idea of developing a center for supporting intellectual infrastructure.

Such a center was described as a computing-specialized "Starbucks" or a "think tank" that could attract high-level visiting faculty in the area of computing and where spontaneous interaction between researchers would be facilitated.

Support for grant writing, including peer-group reviews and creation of "fleets" of grant writers, such as those that exist at prestigious universities, were mentioned as necessary for obtaining larger grants, while incentives for collaborating between academic units also was described as critical.

More physical space and indirect cost return/recovery for principal investigators also received attention, as did the need for new sources of grants besides state and federal agencies.

Technologies that encourage and support collaboration also were mentioned as critical.

Noting that the retreat had turned out to be, in his opinion, more successful than had been anticipated (as well as an hour shorter in duration), Abani Patra, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and a member of the coordinating committee, asked attendees to post their thoughts to the UB 2020 Web site.

"You have to push your particular agenda," said Patra. "Hopefully, the best will win."