Research | DOI: 10.1145/1592761.1592787
The Expeditions in Computing program provides scientists with the
funding to work on ambitious, often multidisciplinary research.
ExPediTioNs iN CoMPuTiNg, the National Science Founda- tion’s two-year-old program encouraging bold experi- mentation in computer science research, wasn’t necessarily designed to showcase multidisciplinary
projects. However, the seven winners of
the $10-million, five-year grants are in
the vanguard of research in which profound advances in computer science
often involve fundamental advances in
“A question that always arises when
you give a big award like this is, Would
it have been better to have given it to
individuals instead of a big award?”
says Edmund M. Clarke, a professor of
computer science and electrical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University
and a recipient of a 2009 Expeditions
grant. The answer, Clarke says, is that
natural and social sciences are increasingly intertwined with computer
science, and “no one of us is a master
of all this material.”
iLLUStration CoUrteSy of harVar D MiCrorobotiCS Laboratory
Jeannette M. Wing, assistant director of the Computer and Information
Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate at the National Science Foundation, says Expeditions was designed in
response to concerns from the computer science community that opportunities for expansive and visionary research has lagged in recent years. She
says the program provides sufficient
funding for a five-year period so the
teams can focus on their research and
not on writing grant proposals.
“It was really, really important for
the CISE community, I felt,” Wing says.
“The expectation was that there would
be multiple investigators working together in some kind of collaboration.
It did not have to be interdisciplinary—that wasn’t a requirement—but
because we expected that a proposal
would have multiple principal inves-
a concept drawing of a RoboBee, which belongs to an artificial colony of small-scale robotic
bees, under development at harvard’s school of engineering and applied sciences.
tigators, we wanted the whole to be
greater than the sum of the parts.”
The seven Expeditions projects—
four were awarded in 2008 and three
in 2009—bear out Wing’s vision, with
27 universities and partner research
organizations represented. Some projects tackle challenges within computer science itself, others bridge
multiple disciplines, but all address
a daunting challenge that, like an adventurous expedition, can stimulate
2009 a WaRDees
Combining Model Checking
and Abstract Interpretation
carnegie mellon university
The Carnegie Mellon project illustrates
the symbiosis between critical issues in
computer science and other disciplines.
Clarke and his colleagues will take principles in model checking and abstract
interpretation and apply them to discovering new approaches for treatments of
pancreatic cancer and atrial fibrillation,
and also to better assure reliability in
large-scale embedded systems such as
those controlling aircraft functions.
Model checking considers every
possible system design state against
a designer’s blueprint, and can warn
of possible inconsistencies. Its granularity, however, limits the size of the
systems it can analyze. Abstract interpretation, in contrast, develops an approximation of a system and preserves
properties that need to be assessed.
This makes it possible to analyze very
large systems, but with less precision