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In mid-September NSF announced the award of its prestigious Information Technology Research (ITR) grants. The major goals of the program are to augment the nation's information technology knowledge base and strengthen its IT workforce. NSF director Rita Colwell said, `These projects represent major innovations in information technology, rather than routine applications of existing technology.' `This initiative,' said President Clinton in announcing the awards, `will help strengthen America's leadership in a sector that has accounted for one-third of U.S. economic growth in recent years.' Brown Computer Science investigators received two of the only 62 `large' (more than $500,000) ITR grants awarded nationwide.

Prof. David Laidlaw's four-year, $2.3-million grant will fund an interdisciplinary and inter-university research team that includes Brown's Andy van Dam, an artist, an applied mathematician, a biomedical engineer, biologists, and perceptual psychologists who will develop new ways to look at scientific data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized blood flow research, and computer-simulated geographic remote sensing. `Current MRI technology, for example, can supply huge amounts of data, but there is no practical way of visualizing it,' Laidlaw said. More information could be extracted from an MRI if one could somehow look at the multiple values represented at each point of the image.

The team will apply ideas from painting, sculpture, drawing and graphic design to create new visualization tools to portray huge amounts of data as effectively as possible. `We're looking for more expressive pictures than are currently available,' Laidlaw said. The researchers will use perceptual psychology to compare the effectiveness of visualization tools in several environments, including virtual reality, desktop workstations, paper and 3D rapid-prototyping output. The tools will be developed and evaluated in close collaboration with scientists in three disciplines: neurobiologists studying neural development and diseases via biological imaging, computational flow researchers studying blood flow through arteries, and geographers using remote sensing for environmental monitoring and natural resource management.

Under Prof. Stanley Zdonik's five-year, $3.2-million grant, researchers (CS's Steve Reiss, Michael Franklin of UC Berkeley, and Mitch Cherniack, CS PhD '99 and now on the faculty at Brandeis) will study ways to make using the Internet faster and more responsive by designing web-based middleware -- software to enhance the interaction between users and Web servers. The team's research focuses on designing technology to let people create profiles of their information interests and on developing techniques that can use those profiles to manage web data intelligently.

Another goal of the research is to explore how user profiles might let people update the information they carry in their portable computers and cell phones. The team hopes to develop techniques that would allow someone to plug into an Ethernet socket to update the limited memory of a computing device. The user would receive updated e-mail and other information. The researchers hope to to make such "data recharging" on a portable device as simple as recharging the battery.