Proposal for an Applied Mathematical, Computational,

and Information Science Institute

S. Bruell, J. Broffitt, Bor-Luh Lin, W.Polyzou,


Below is a proposal for a "University of Iowa Institute for Applied Computational, Mathematical, and Information Science." The purpose of this Institute is to facilitate interdisciplinary research collaborations between faculty, students, and research scientists who apply common algorithms from mathematical, computational, or information science to research problems.

What is the Institute? Members of the proposed Institute would consist of faculty, staff, and students who make essential use of mathematical, computational, or information science algorithms in their research.

Each year an annual program will be set by a board of directors composed of a broad representation of Institute members and adjunct members from the public/private sector. The annual program will consist of a number of topical activities. A topical activity might include a set of seminars, a workshop, a short course, a student research project, or other relevant elements. The board will be charged with choosing a sufficient number of topical activities so each institute member will find at least one topic of relevance to their area of research. At the same time the board will also be charged with ensuring that each topical activity is narrowly focused on the interests of members from more than one department. This structure should be able to simultaneously accommodate a broad spectrum of interests, while at the same time maintaining a sufficient focus to ensure participation in the specific activities that are relevant to individual members.

In order to promote the interdisciplinary nature of the Institute, each topical activity will be co-sponsored by members in at least two departments. Emphasis will be on common algorithms being applied to problems in different disciplines. When possible, topical activities will be held in the facilities of one (or more) of the sponsoring departments. This will help to break down departmental barriers by providing a mechanism for members to visit departments of other Institute members.

The Institute will actively promote the extensive research activities of the University in the area of applied computational, mathematical, and information science. The promotion will be directed at the University, industry, the state office of economic development, and other research universities.

The institute's primary mission is to promote interdisciplinary research, but it will work closely with the Applied Mathematical and Computational Science Program (AMCS), Software@Iowa, and other programs with related educational missions. The board of directors will also choose at least one topical activity that is designed primarily to benefit students. The institute will work with Software@Iowa and the Applied Mathematical and Computational Science program in developing certificates for specific types of student participation.

The Institute will not have faculty lines or offer degrees. The purpose of the Institute is to facilitate interaction between members in different departments. This implicitly recognizes that individual departments are best equiped to evaluate the quality of faculty hired in their own disciplines, and that individual faculty should be accepted and recognized by peers in their fields. Similarly, students are more competitive for research jobs or graduate school if they have a degree in a traditional department. The AMCS program would be the appropriate degree granting program for graduate students whose orientation is more toward the application of mathematical or computational methods.

History The idea for an interdisciplinary program in applied computational sciences is not new. Computational and mathematical methods have long been important tools in the basic sciences and engineering. Developments in mathematics, computer science, engineering and the hard sciences have all benefited from advances made in any one of them. An interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Applied Mathematical and Computational Sciences was started in 1971. This is a degree-granting program designed to assist students in their development in applied and computational mathematics with sufficient professional experience and versatility to meet some of the research, teaching, business, and industrial needs of our technology based society. This program involves 35 faculty members from 13 departments.

In the 28 years since the AMCS program was started, advances in the power of computers have made many problems solvable that were previously considered intractable. Computer power has evolved to the point where quantitative methods can now be applied to the complex problems that are confronted in disciplines like business, biological sciences, medicine, meteorology, and atmospheric science. Many complex problems in engineering, from the design of new aircraft to micro circuits, are now performed by computer rather than in the laboratory. Information management algorithms also impact non mathematical fields such as law, where complex cases require sophisticated statistical analysis, the arts, where special effects in audio and visual media are treated with digital methods, and many other disciplines. The connectivity of modern computers has made information management an important concern. As a consequence of all of these rapid changes, it is clear that starting the AMCS program was visionary when founded. It is also clear that more needs to be done for the University to effectively respond to rapid changes in the way science is now conducted.

A second related initiative, which was recently approved by the Board of Regents, is Software@Iowa. It is a business-education venture proposed by Jon Kuhl (ECE), Roger Shultz (Management Science), and Don Epley (CS). It is a working partnership with industry to educate students and professionals in practical software development. There are many areas where the proposed Institute would work closely with members and affiliates of Software@Iowa.

In addition to the AMCS and Software@Iowa programs, a group led by Professor Atkinson proposed an institute for computational science several years ago. Our proposal is similar to the one submitted by Professor Atkinson. It is focused more toward faculty research than the AMCS program and Software@Iowa. The University has many faculty performing fundamental research using quantitative or information management techniques. This proposal focuses on facilitating interdisciplinary exchanges between these faculty and promoting new research collaborations that grow as a result of these exchanges.

Since this proposal was circulated, a related proposal for a new College of Computational and Information Science was submitted. The proposal for a new College of Computational and Information Science attempts to address many of the concerns discussed in this proposal. However, this proposal is more limited in scope and does not require any changes in the University's administrative structure.

Why have an Institute? Pressure for educational institutions to respond to the rapid advances in computational and information management power comes from many sources, including the state government, the federal government, industry, and other institutions of higher learning. Advances in computer hardware are making the difficult research problems on the boundaries of traditional disciplines more tractable. Activities that promote the exchange of ideas between faculty that work in different disciplines directly benefit the research mission of the University by putting faculty in a position to develop new leading edge research programs.

The Skills 2000 Commission Report is an assessment of major employer's skill and employment needs in East Central Iowa. It projects that 33 of the major employers in Eastern Iowa will hire 2992 new employees in information technology jobs in the next five years. In order to keep these major employers in Iowa, the state must be able to furnish highly skilled workers to fill these jobs. The state has initiated the "Human Resource Recruitment Initiative" while the private sector software companies have created the "Iowa Software Association" to address these problems. Software@Iowa is designed meet some of these needs by providing students with transferable skills in software development.

Locally there is a Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Technology Corridor marketing initiative. A recent (Oct. 8,1999) article in the New York Times cites numerous examples of how technology transfer from university research is fueling the economy in communities located near these universities. A significant fraction of this new development is in the area of computational or information science. Every one of the University of California campuses has a nearby high-tech cluster. Two new information technology companies are born each business day in the corridor between the University of Southern Florida and the University Central Florida. The city of Pittsburgh has tied its economic development to new high-tech start-ups from local universities such as Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. Connections between universities and local and national economies are beginning to redefine education paradigms in many institutions. Even Harvard University is contemplating new economic roles.

At the national level, The President's Information Technology Advisory Committee's Executive report concluded that "federal support for research in information technology is seriously inadequate." In this report leaders from 13 major industries stated "The fundamental research investments in university research by the federal government have served to train the majority of our information technology professionals. In recent years, however, the shortage of workers with adequate skills makes it difficult for companies to grow both near and long-term research, even if budgets allowed. This alone suggests the critical need for government support of university research." The federal initiative, "Information Technology for the twenty-first century (IT2)" recommends a 28% increase in federal funding over the next five years in the computational and information technology research budgets of six federal agencies (DOD, DOE, NASA, NIH, NSF, and NOAA). Universities that have programs in place will compete effectively for these new funds. They will be in a position to be at the forefront of research in the application of computational and information science techniques to fundamental scientific and technical problems.

The changes brought on by newly found abilities to solve complicated problems in many fields has motivated many universities to rethink ways of breaking down boundaries between different fields of science and engineering. NSF supports numerous science and engineering research centers. In addition, many major research universities have already responded to these needs by setting up interdisciplinary centers in computational or information science. The appendix lists a number of peer institutions that have such centers. Thomas Everhart, the President Emeritus of the California Institute of Technology wrote a contribution to the Keck foundation home page specifically addressing the need for new approaches to research. In his contribution, "New Approaches to Research," he mentions that at the California Institute of Technology, the Provost, Steve Koonin (a physicist) persuaded the biology department to sponsor a series of classes for the entire faculty on contemporary problems in biology. Approximately half of the faculty attended these classes which resulted in new research collaborations. The success of this exercise led to new "classes for faculty" in other areas. The University of California in Berkeley is starting a $500 million interdisciplinary science initiative

From the point of view of individual faculty, the most important reason to have such an Institute is that it will facilitate breaking down departmental and collegiate barriers. This is particularly beneficial in the application of computational and information science methods to research problems, where similar algorithms undergo parallel developments in many disciplines. Advances in any one discipline have potential impact in many other disciplines. As important as it is for faculty to be aware of parallel developments in other fields, it is even more important for students, who will be entering a world where the solution of complex problems will require an even broader base of interdisciplinary skills. Although the connections between diverse areas might initially focus on the common methods and algorithms, having faculty involved in interdisciplinary topical activities has the potential to facilitate deeper insights into common elements of problems in diverse areas. This will put university faculty in a better position to make important contributions in research areas that lie at the boundaries of traditional disciplines.

Individual faculty will benefit because it will be easier for them to keep up-to-date with advances in other fields which may impact their research. They will also benefit by developing a deeper understanding about the connections between seemingly distinct areas of research. Finally, faculty will be in a better position to prepare proposals for funds in new research areas that fall between the boundaries of traditional disciplines, or come through the IT2 initiatives. In some cases they will be better prepared to contribute to economic development through technology transfer.

Visibly promoting the research of Institute members will bring more attention to the diversity of computational, mathematical, or information science opportunities available at the University of Iowa. This is attractive for recruiting students and junior faculty, as well as drawing attention to industries who may be interested in capitalizing on the student talent generated by these programs. Attracting additional students with computational aptitudes will clearly benefit the local economy.

Information science methods are becoming an increasingly important component in many disciplines. Evidence exists for an emerging economic "digital divide" between the technological haves and have-nots [see Business Week, Aug. 2, 1999 - p. #40]. If this trend continues, information literacy could play a role similar to the role played by a college education during the decades following the second world war. The importance of information literacy has been recognized by many universities who have responded to this need in a variety of ways. The impact of mathematical, computational, and information literacy is not limited to the hard sciences and engineering; it spans all sectors of our economy. It is important in business, management, medicine, law, the social sciences, humanities, and the arts. Providing select students with a first-hand opportunity to see how common methods in the mathematical, computational, and information science contribute to the solution of a broad range of research problems will directly contribute to the "information literacy" of the participating students. Certification processes developed with the Applied Mathematical and Computational Science program and Software@Iowa would be models for more a comprehensive "information literacy certification" for the broader student population.

This initiative will facilitate economic development and technology transfer initiatives at the University of Iowa by focusing primarily on faculty research. Research is the creative driving force for all technology transfer. Technology transfer is facilitated when faculty research is made visible to entrepreneurial students, venture capital investors, or individuals in the private sector. This type of activity will not happen by mandate; success requires that the creative and innovative aspects of faculty research be nourished. The rest will follow if the proper communication channels are made as open as possible.

A draft proposal appears below. Conversations with a number of interested groups and individuals materially contributed to this proposal; however, this draft is intended to be the starting point for a more extensive discussion involving a broader group of supporters.




Most of the programs listed below are interdisciplinary in nature and involve the application of computational and information science to problems in other fields. Although most of the applications are in science and engineering, some of the programs are broader in scope.