NSF puts $30M behind software bug killing, synthetic biology & computational sustainability

Boston University, Cornell and Princeton lead the way on these National Science Foundation funded efforts

NSF puts $30M behind software bug killing, synthetic biology & computational sustainability
Photo by Frank Wojciechowski for the Office of Engineering Communications

The National Science Foundation this week announced it is divvying up $30 million in funding among three multidisciplinary research projects designed to put advanced computing models to work on nixing software bugs, boosting synthetic biology and creating a more sustainable world.

Researchers at Princeton University, Boston University and Cornell University will lead the Expeditions in Computing projects, which each get $10 million over 5 years. The NSF's Expeditions program has funded 19 projects to the tune of $190 million to date, with areas of focus ranging from robotics to the mobile Internet.

The Princeton effort, dubbed DeepSpec, is led by Andrew Appel, and also involves researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University and MIT.

The NSF says the research "aims to eliminate software 'bugs' that can lead to security vulnerabilities and computing errors by improving the formal methods -- or the mathematically based techniques -- by which software is developed and verified." Researchers will dissect how various components of computer hardware and software work, and work together. 

In a statement, Computer Science Professor Appel says: "In our interconnected world, software bugs and security vulnerabilities pose enormous costs and risks. When you press the accelerator pedal or the brake in a modern car, for instance, you're really just suggesting to some computer program that you want to speed up or slow down. The computer had better get it right." 

Boston University will lead research on a project not-so-succinctly called Evolvable Living Computing -- Understanding and Quantifying Synthetic Biological Systems' Applicability, Performance, and Limits

The NSF says "the grant will support efforts to create a systematic set of guidelines to carefully measure and catalogue biological parts that can be used to engineer biological systems with predictable results. These guidelines will allow researchers to better understand what computing principles can be applied repeatedly and reliably to synthetic biology." This could lead to breakthroughs in healthcare and beyond.

Cornell's Carla Gomes will lead the third project, titled CompSustNet: Expanding the Horizons of Computational Sustainability.

The NSF says: "CompSustNet will act as a large national and international multi-institutional research and education network, collaborating with key governmental and non-governmental organizations in the areas of conservation, poverty mitigation and renewable energy. The researchers will use computational techniques and methodologies to increase the effectiveness of the management and allocation of natural and societal resources."

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