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Simons Foundation awards $60 million to UC Berkeley for computing facility

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MAY 02, 2012

UC Berkeley announced Tuesday it will be the recipient of a $60 million grant from the Simons Foundation to establish a theoretical computing center on campus.

The new center, called the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing, will be housed in Calvin Hall and will begin operations in 2013.

Research at the institute will focus on applying computational science to interdisciplinary fields such as mathematics, health care and climate modeling, according to a campus press release.

“We expect that, within the next two decades, every major field of science will have among its most significant achievements — at least one that is computational in nature,” said electrical engineering and computer sciences professor Richard Karp, who will be heading the institute, in the release.

According to the foundation’s website, the new institute will receive an initial award of $6 million per year for 10 years — “contingent on excellent performance in the first five years” — with $1 million per year going to direct costs. After 10 years, a renewal or an endowment gift will be considered.

Shankar Sastry, dean of electrical engineering and computer sciences, will be one of three campus administrators overseeing the institute and said the primary goal of the institute will be to “bring into the educational mainstream, the role of computing and theory of computational science.”

The institute will be able to house about 70 visiting researchers including faculty members, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students at any one time, according to Alistair Sinclair, the institute’s founding associate director and a computer science professor. Sinclair estimates that about 20 to 25 of those researchers will be graduate students.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said the other institutions competing for the grant spoke to the foundation about UC Berkeley, saying the campus would not be relevant in 10 years.

“I sort of gasped and had one half-hour full-frontal assault on why Berkeley was a great university now and in 10 years,” Birgeneau said.

UC Berkeley was the only public campus among the finalists for the grant.

“The award shows that Berkeley maintains its ability to compete with the highest private universities in the world, despite disinvestment from the state,” said Vice Chancellor for Research Graham Fleming. “It is a symbol of strength and continues the public mission of the university.”

Fleming said that one of the reasons UC Berkeley was selected as the grant recipient was because of its proximity to Silicon Valley.  The institute has attracted the attention of several technology companies, including Google, who has signed on as the institute’s first founding industrial partner.

The campus plans to host an event on May 21 to celebrate the center’s establishment.

Clarifications: A previous version of this article, said the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing will begin operations in 2013. In fact, it will begin operations later this year and be fully operational in 2013.
Staff writer Sara Grossman contributed to this report.

JUNE 11, 2012

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