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Dawn Levy, News Service (650) 725-1944; e-mail:

Stanford and Cal computer scientists enter into unique collaboration

Putting aside their rivalry for a day, computer science students and faculty from Stanford and the University of California-Berkeley gathered March 3 to celebrate a unique collaboration between the universities.

Under a new agreement between the two institutions' computer science departments, graduate students can attend jointly taught classes and work with faculty from either university. Increasing collaboration between the two groups will open new research avenues in the areas of human-centered computing, graphics and vision, databases, computational theory and artificial intelligence.

"We see this as an unparalleled opportunity to unite two of the top computer science groups in the country," said Christos Papadimitriou, chair of the computer science division in the Berkeley Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and a former Stanford faculty member. Stanford and Berkeley are in a three-way tie with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for the top-ranked computer science department in the country.

Although Cal and Stanford are well known for their annual Big Game pranks, the interactions among computer science graduate students and faculty are relatively civil. "Football aside, we probably have more ties of friendship with Berkeley than with any other top university in the country," said Marc Levoy, a Stanford associate professor who created the Digital Michelangelo Project, a five-year effort to create a three-dimensional digital archive of the statues of Michelangelo.

The Fall 2000 quarter marked the first computer science class taught by professors at both universities. Each week, approximately 10 Berkeley graduate students drove south to Palo Alto to attend an interdisciplinary computer vision and graphics class, taught by two of the country's leading experts their fields, Stanford Professor Pat Hanrahan (in graphics) and Berkeley Professor Jitendra Malik (in vision). The class continues this quarter on the Berkeley campus.

At Stanford, the students learned techniques for creating realistic-looking silk, glistening dewdrops and convincing skin tones. At Berkeley, the course is exploring how to recreate the perception of light and shadows and the movements of the human body. "The subject of this course sits at the interface between computer vision and graphics," Malik said. "Our strengths were complementary."

Despite the spirit of collaboration, one area of stiff competition remains: graduate student recruitment. While on the surface the schools appear cooperative each year, Stanford and Berkeley coordinate a four-day event designed to help candidates avoid repetitive visits to the Bay Area -- the contest for top graduate students is always fierce. While the new agreement may not ease this tension, it could help both schools beat their mutual rival, MIT.

Together, Berkeley and Stanford form a West Coast computing powerhouse that capitalizes on a long tradition of innovation. Stanford President John Hennessy and Berkeley computer science Professor David Patterson, both of whom spoke Saturday on the changing role of hardware research at universities, helped jumpstart the information technology age with their creation of the computer microprocessor architecture known as RISC (reduced instruction set computing), which uses simpler but faster instructions to execute the same task. The two schools' contributions to operating systems, databases, networking and theory have profoundly affected computing as we know it today. Saturday's event provided graduate students with an opportunity to see their professors engage in lively debate about the future of computer science.

Catherine Zandonella is a science writer for the University of California-Berkeley Office of Public Affairs. Dawn Levy contributed to this report.


By Catherine Zandonella

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