Research roundup

16 October 2002 |

Grant to support technology for first quantum computer
Several cutting-edge technologies suitable for the development of the first practical quantum computer will be tested at Berkeley, thanks to a new $4.5-million National Science Foundation grant.

The work will allow a team of chemists, physicists, and engineers to determine the best solid-state materials from which to build the high-speed processors, which are able to perform millions or billions of calculations simultaneously. From there, says project leader K. Birgitta Whaley, professor of chemistry, the research will lead to testing of materials that can be used to build quantum nanoprocessors. Those futuristic machines will one day be a thousand times smaller than today’s silicon-based microprocessors, and able to calculate hundreds or thousands of quantum bits (qubits) at the same time.

“We’d like to exploit condensed matter, since engineers have had so much success making solid-state devices that are everywhere today — the chips in cell phones, computers and even washing machines,” adds Michael F. Crommie, associate professor of physics. “We want to create comparable devices taking advantage of quantum mechanical effects.”

Over the next five years, the researchers will also be able to evaluate new techniques needed to control and measure qubits on the scale of atoms, Crommie says. Among the techniques to be evaluated are ultra-low-temperature scanning tunneling microscopes, which can pick up and move single atoms on the surface of a material, and superconducting quantum interference devices, or SQUIDS, which are sensitive enough to measure magnetic activity in the brain.
— Robert Sanders

Economists pessimistic about recovery
The national economy is likely headed for another serious recession rather than a continued slow recovery, according to a new report from the Haas School of Business.

Kenneth Rosen, chair of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the Haas School, and his co-author Amanda Bishop, say the current economic environment has several characteristics of previous recessions, and calculate the odds of a full-blown recession in late 2002 and 2003 at 60 percent. (The 40-percent chance of an ongoing slow recovery hinges on continued consumer spending.)

In “Another Leg Down: Risk Factors That Could Push the Economy Back Into a Full Blown Recession,” the authors note the potential impact of a number of other risk factors, such as a volatile stock market, badly bruised technology and telecom sectors, and corporate-accounting scandals and corporate fraud. Their findings are based on current trends that cause consumers to reduce their spending, including the stock-market correction; corporate America’s second-round layoffs; high private-sector debt; a potential corporate-credit crunch; geopolitical events; and a continuing slump in capital spending.

At the same time, Rosen and Bishop say, a few forces are stimulating the economy: extremely low interest rates, a surge in defense spending, and year-over-year increases in industrial production.
— Ute Frey

Berkeley joins bioterrorism network
A new academic center to help researchers monitor and help combat bioterrorism, outbreaks of infectious diseases, and other public-health threats has been established at Berkeley with the aid of a $2.8-million federal grant.

The new Center for Infectious Disease Preparedness is being set up with funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in collaboration with the Association of Schools of Public Health. Berkeley and three other new centers — at the University of Michigan, University of Oklahoma, and University of South Carolina — will join 15 others funded in February as part of the Bush administation’s $2.9-billion bioterrorism initiative.

“The weaknesses of the nation’s public-health infrastructure were made clear in last year’s anthrax attacks,” says Dr. Arthur Reingold, professor and head of epidemiology in the School of Public Health and lead investigator of the grant. To remedy that situation, researchers will work closely with state and local health officials in California and Nevada, as well as with the California Highway Patrol, to identify high-priority training needs and coordinate their efforts with the other academic centers for public-health preparedness around the country.
— Sarah Yang

Pre-K teachers working in a two-tier system
Within state-funded prekindergarten systems, teachers in publicly operated settings are better educated and better paid, and enjoy more job stability, than their counterparts in privately operated settings, according to a new study by researchers at Berkeley and the Center for the Child Care Workforce in Washington, D.C.

“Inside the Classroom: A Study of Staffing and Stability in State-Funded Prekindergarten Programs” compares staff qualifications, stability, turnover rates, and compensation in state-funded prekindergarten programs in California and four other states. The substantial differences found in qualifications and compensation reflect clear evidence, the report says, of the development of “a two-tier system of prekindergarten education” in the four studied states offering both publicly and privately operated programs.

From 1991 to 1999, pre-K enrollment in the U.S. increased from 250,000 to 750,000 children. Meanwhile, the overall child-care and early-education system, of which prekindergarten is a part, has been experiencing a major staffing crisis, with annual turnover rates reaching 30 percent.

“In many state-funded pre-K programs, high turnover fueled by low wages seriously jeopardizes their capacity to attract teachers with higher qualifications,” says senior researcher Marcy Whitebook of Berkeley’s Institute of Industrial Relations. “This is a problem because we know that teachers’ compensation and consistency make a huge difference in children’s ability to learn.”
— Kathleen Maclay

NSF awards $13 million to modernize software systems
Researchers who modernize embedded software systems to run everything from an aircraft’s navigation system to a child’s robotic pet have received a $13-million boost from the National Science Foundation to continue their work.

The five-year grant will support the development of reusable, inter-operating open-source software for embedded systems, including those that involve anti-terrorism technologies, autonomous robots and aircraft, and vehicle electronics.

Researchers say many advances in software engineering are not making it into embedded software systems because they do not address the physical realities of the day-to-day world. “This is where the world of programming code hits the laws of physics,” says Shankar Sastry, professor and chair of Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineer-ing and Computer Sciences, and principal investigator of the project.

The project will be based at the Center for Hybrid and Embedded Software Systems (CHESS), founded and directed by Sastry, and will be a major part of the Berkeley-based Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS).
— Robert Sanders


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