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Andrews Outlines NSF's Cyberinfrastructure Plan
IT research initiative holds strong opportunity for foundation-laying work, he tells dg.o2003
DGRC Staff

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CISE/EIA director Gregory Andrews called on the digital government research community to play a lead role in the agency's new cyberinfrastructure initiative.

"With digital government you have far more potential to have a broader impact on many more people's lives," said Andrews, who was appointed division director for Experimental and Integrative Activities in January, 2003. "Believe me the physicists will speak their minds. But lots of individuals may not be heard."

The cyberinfrastructure initiative, launched this year and expected to last through 2009, is an NSF-wide plan designed to build on the supercomputing capacity innovations of the past, Andrews explained. The 2004 budget request is $20 million.

Just as the supercomputing centers could be compared in their ability to open capacity for new innovations to the generators and transmission wires of the electrical grid, cyberinfrastructure will be the streets, water pipes and sewers of the new scientific research era, he said.

Supercomputing allowed researchers to perform giant calculations they could have performed no other way, including earthquake modeling, human genome mapping and climate modeling, leading to the pervasive e computing environment we find ourselves in today, Andrews said. In the same way, cyberinfrastructure will be "an incredible enabler, beyond what we can envision now, in making science and engineering research topics possible," he added.

Digital government scientists have a unique cross-disciplinary vantage point, enfolding government, industry and research communities, that could point the way to the best use of cyberinfrastructure dollars, Andrews said; but if they are not careful, digital government could be left out in the cold.

"He's asking the group to organize itself and prepare to have influence," said digital government program manager Valerie Gregg. "It's easy to keep the research in the domain sciences."

"It's not just about doing big science," Andrews went on. "We have developed the computational infrastructure and it has given us widespread pervasive computing. People said it was too expensive to put a man on the moon. But remember all the space age products that spun off? We're seeing the same thing here."

Andrews recalled how NSF's Larry Brandt, while program manager at the University of Illinois national center for supercomputing, provided support to a young Mark Andresson. That would be the same Andresson who went on to develop Mosaic, and eventually Netscape Navigator, the seminal web browser.

"Is there another Mosaic story?" Andrews posed. "Through your projects you're engaging so many people ... I'd like to see that uniqueness turned to an advantage."