Computing Power to the Profs

January 31, 2005

Faculty members in disciplines from art to zoology are puzzling over how best to use the burgeoning power of computers to advance their fields. Now, North Carolina will boast a new Renaissance Computing Institute to help artists, humanists, clinicians, and other scholars apply advanced computing to their problems.

The new institute is a partnership among Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University. It is led by computer scientist Dan Reed, formerly the director of the supercomputer applications center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"The two most interesting people I had on the staff in Illinois were an artist and a civil-rights historian," recalls Reed. "Each brought a different way of looking at problems, both socially and technically. It was the artist who put together what she called 'Renaissance teams' to tackle problems that extend beyond the boundaries of any single discipline. That's the idea behind the Renaissance Computing Institute."

Reed says Renaissance teams will include people with whatever expertise a problem requires. "People from the arts and humanities may be paired with people from the technical side of computing; biomedical researchers with social scientists and computing people; or physical scientists with business people and policy experts." He adds that the Renaissance approach can contribute to successful commercialization of discoveries, when appropriate.

A major focus of the institute, to be based in Research Triangle Park, will be collaborations between computer scientists and biomedical researchers. Reed says a partnership between a medical researcher and a computer scientist could aid the search for new drugs by using computers to analyze data on disease treatments.