Bryn Mawr College Joins Other Schools in Creation of Center for Science of Information

Posted March 8th, 2010 at 4:31 pm.

Bryn Mawr College is joining Howard University; MIT, Princeton; Stanford University; the University of California, Berkley; the University of California, San Diego; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and lead institution Purdue University in the creation of the National Science Foundation’s Center for the Science of Information.

The Center will be headquartered at Purdue and is part of a five-year, $25 million grant by the NSF to create five new Science and Technology Centers that support integrative partnerships requiring large-scale, long-term funding to produce research and education of the highest quality.

The Center for the Science of Information will bring together researchers from diverse fields (physics, life science, chemistry, computer science, economics, etc.) to develop models and methods to develop a unifying set of principles to guide the extraction, manipulation, and exchange of information in a variety of fields and applications.

“For Bryn Mawr, this grant is all about our students,” says Computer Science Professor Deepak Kumar, who represents Bryn Mawr in the project. “Our curricular initiatives and innovations of the last 10 years are what got us to the table. We’re going to help the other researchers involved in this project design courses and figure out how best to introduce the emerging concepts in the science of information to undergraduates,” he adds.

Through the years, Bryn Mawr’s innovative computing curriculum has included such cutting-edge courses as Emergence, Computational Linguistics, and Information Visualizatiion. In addition to Kumar and fellow computer science faculty members Doug Blank and Dianna Xiu, these interdisciplinary course have been taught/co-taught by a number of Bryn Mawr professors, including Biology’s Paul Grobstein and Mike Sears, Math’s Rhonda Hughes, and Chemistry’s Michelle Francl.

Many of these professors will also be involved with the Center, says Kumar. Over five years of the project, Bryn Mawr will receive $1.5 million in funding, much of which will go to support student fellowships.

One of the factors that worked in Bryn Mawr’s favor in being chosen to participate was the fact that the College has already offered an interdisciplinary minor in computational methods for many years, said Kumar.This project will help more Bryn Mawr students than ever pursue studies in computational modeling.

“Students in all disciplines ought to be learning computational modeling these days,” says Kumar. “For example, if you want to be a linguist, there’s so much data available about language. An understanding of computational modeling will help you understand how to sift through that data so you can do meaningful linguistic analysis.”

Kumar sees the central goal of the Center as pushing the boundaries of information theory, which has allowed people to harness tremendous amounts of information for extraordinary undertakings like the creation of search engines and unraveling the human genome. The Center’s mission is to enable even more nuanced ways of finding meaning in the sea of information now available.

“This is information theory 2.0,” says Kumar. “We want to extend current theory to take into account the influence of space, time, structure, semantics and context.”

In October of 2008, NSF received 247 preliminary proposals. Following extensive panel review, 45 full proposals were invited and reviewed by both panel and ad hoc experts, 11 sites were visited, and five were recommended for awards by a blue-ribbon panel. Well over 100 program directors from throughout NSF assisted in the review process.

“These five new STCs will involve world-class teams of researchers and educators, integrate learning and discovery in innovative ways, tackle complex problems that require the long-term support afforded by this program, and lead to the development of new technologies with significant impact well into the future,” said NSF Director Arden L. Bement in announcing the grants.

Comments are closed.