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U. of California at Berkeley Receives $60-Million for New Computing Institute


The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 1, 2012

The University of California at Berkeley has won a $60-million grant from the Simons Foundation to create a new center for theoretical computer science, the university announced today.

The center, called the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing, will give researchers a place to explore complex mathematical algorithms that could help solve everyday problems in climate science, health care, economics, and other fields. The Simons Foundation, which focuses on advancing research in science and mathematics, selected Berkeley from a group of three finalists.

Richard M. Karp, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the university, has been named the institute’s founding director. He noted that the new institute won’t be a simple computing center where researchers will process their data. Instead, researchers there will train the methods of theoretical computer science on questions as varied as how cells work and how economies work. He added that problems in many scientific fields, including biology, are “information-processing problems” that could be opened up by a computational approach.

“You can think of cancer as a kind of algorithm gone wrong, where somehow the mechanisms of cell reproduction have been hijacked,” he said. “And if we can understand just where in that algorithm the abnormality occurs, we have a possibility for intervening in cancer.” He added that researchers could use algorithms to find new insights in the streams of “big data” that play an increasingly prominent role in scientific inquiry.

The institute will host about 70 visiting researchers at a time, Mr. Karp said. It will begin operating in July, and its first scientific programs will start next January.