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Equipment grants signal new university-IBM collaborations

STANFORD -- A $1.4 million grant to Stanford researchers of computers, workstations and equipment is part of a new emphasis by IBM Corporation on selected partnerships with universities for research of specific interest to the company.

IBM is focusing $20 million in grants on a limited number of U.S. universities, which so far include Penn State, Purdue, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of California-Los Angeles, the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas-Austin.

"This is a new approach to university-industry collaborations," said Charles Kruger, Stanford dean of research. "It involves an active interaction between researchers on both sides. We welcome that. This is a perfect time in the nation's history to find ways to work with industry that are compatible with the mission of a university."

Scientists in seven Stanford research programs are now unpacking such goodies as a powerful new $722,000 SP1 parallel processing supercomputer that will speed researchers' work on the architecture and software of the next generation of parallel supercomputers. Also in the works is a portable tablet computer that could help doctors make more accurate notes at the hospital bedside.

Grants from IBM to universities are hardly new. "Big Blue" is by far the largest corporate donor to Stanford, with $42 million in grants to research projects, professors and students over the years. What is new is the tighter focus.

"As in the past, IBM's goal is to support science and engineering education and forge links with academia," said IBM Vice President of Science and Technology James C. McGroddy, who originated the idea of targeted equipment grants to universities. "However, IBM is now more closely matching its donations to its research and development agenda, in particular to foster computational partnerships to develop simulation modeling and engineering applications. We have given these grants to Stanford in view of its outstanding research projects of significant interest to the company's research community."

The grant was formally announced at a luncheon Oct. 13 for research grant award winners from IBM and Stanford. Provost Condoleezza Rice and Dean of Research Charles Kruger represented Stanford, and IBM was represented by Yuri Matisoo, director of the Almaden Research Center; Dean Eastman, research division vice president for physical sciences and technology; and V. Sadagopan, manager of the Stanford-IBM shared university research program.

In a briefing before the luncheon, Sadagopan said there are three unique aspects to the new shared university research programs.

One is a new IBM emphasis on technical computing, with the introduction of the SP1 parallel processor. The grant recipients will use state-of-the-art equipment to advance the state of the art of scientific and industrial computing. A second aspect is a mentoring program that identifies promising undergraduate and graduate students to be guided by both university and IBM mentors.

A third emphasis is on projects where IBM and Stanford researchers can work together, tackling different aspects of the same problem. Kruger said that this program preserves the university's principles that the intellectual direction of research must come from the faculty and that the results should be open to all. In addition, it stimulates interaction between participating Stanford faculty members and IBM researchers who have been specifically identified as "links" to each project.

The research projects chosen to receive equipment are continuing, multi-year programs to develop new technologies. Most have some federal funding and support from more than one industrial partner. Robert Dutton, professor of electrical engineering and research director of the Center for Integrated Systems, said collaborations like this already have led to real technology transfer, with Stanford- devised systems in use in a competitive marketplace.

Pat Devaney, associate dean of research, said the equipment grants were remarkable for the speed with which decisions were made - a matter of months from the time that IBM asked its researchers to target fruitful collaborations with universities, then called for research proposals and decided which equipment requests would be granted. "Compare that with up to a year to complete the paperwork and negotiations for most proposals," Devaney said.

Most of the grants, which include equipment and some cash for software and personnel support, were given to members of the Computer Science Department and the Center for Integrated Systems. Devaney said the office of the Dean of Research will work with members of other departments to suggest other projects for a possible second round of equipment grants. She said IBM's call for new proposals may come as early as January.

These Stanford projects received equipment in the first round:

  • The Center for Integrated Systems received the SP1, IBM's first major commercial version of a parallel processor, a set of powerful computers linked together by scalable software to do massive computing tasks. Robert Dutton will use the SP1 for his "virtual factory," solving difficult design problems to speed up integrated circuit development. He expects the SP1 to perform an order of magnitude faster than his previous parallel processor. "This machine will be a real engine for statistical analysis," he said.

With the SP1, James Harris, professor of electrical engineering, will test other uses of parallel supercomputing, including a new type of quantum device that may lead to single-electron electronics. Monica Lam, assistant professor of computer science, will use the SP1 to expand her work on languages and compilers, aiming to build a single programming system that can be used on many different parallel architectures.

IBM researchers sharing data about work with the SP1 will include Dan Fleming for Dutton's project; Maurizio Arienzo and John Crow, linked with Harris; and Fran Allen and Vivek Sarkar, linked with Lam.

  • Edward Shortliffe, professor of medicine, and Tom Rindfleisch, director of the Knowledge Systems Lab, will test a tablet-sized, pen-based computer with a wireless link to a central processor. They will attempt to turn the dozens of pages of a patient's hospital chart into a computerized record that doctors and nurses can update easily and call up instantly to make decisions at bedside. The project's IBM link is Ifay Chang.
  • Computer science Professors Hector Garcia-Molina and Jeffrey Ullman will use a network of IBM workstations and experimental stations in their Tsimmis project. The next-generation information management system, Tsimmis will allow a user to collect and manage information for sources as diverse as computer knowledge bases, raw satellite images, newswire stories, electronic mail and books. The project's IBM link is Ashok Chandra.
  • A virtual battlefield is the eventual aim of computer science Professor David Cheriton's project. Thousands of participants at thousands of simulators could practice "war," maneuvering tanks, guns and airships in real time, each seeing his portion of the battle on a realistic simulator. Four IBM RISC/6000 workstations with graphics capabilities will help Cheriton's group work out some of the basic principles of such a distributed interactive simulation. They will consult with IBM's Ashok Chandra.
  • Computer science Professor Terry Winograd will expand his human-computer interaction research to IBM RS-600 machines. "We will be doing research on ways that people can use advanced graphics capabilities to interface large-scale information networks such as the Internet," he said. "We will build experimental interfaces that would not have been possible on the machines we had previously been using, because of the greater graphics and multimedia capabilities of the RS600s."

He will work with IBM's Ted Selker.



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