California Chosen as Home for Computing Institute

Ann McClure's picture
Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Simons Foundation, which specializes in science and math research, has chosen the University of California, Berkeley, as host for an ambitious new center for computer science, the university plans to announce on Tuesday.

The foundation’s $60 million grant to establish the center, to be called the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at U.C. Berkeley, underscores the growing influence of computer science on the physical and social sciences. An interdisciplinary array of scientists will explore the mathematical foundations of computer science and attack problems in fields as diverse as health care, astrophysics, genetics and economics.

“We’ve been talking to astronomers, climate scientists, fluid mechanics people, quantum physicists and cognitive scientists,” said Richard M. Karp, a Berkeley computer scientist who will be the institute’s director.

Part science and part engineering, computer science has long been viewed warily by scientists in other disciplines. But that is changing, not only because the computer has become the standard scientific instrument but also because “computational thinking” offers new ways to analyze the vast amounts of data now accessible to scientists. This new approach — what researchers call the “algorithmic” or “computational” lens — is transforming science in much the way the microscope and telescope did. When computer scientists train their sights on other disciplines, said Christos H. Papadimitriou, a Berkeley computer scientist who will help manage the institute, “truths come out that wouldn’t have come out otherwise.”

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