CITRIS receives initial public funds

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs

16 August 2001 | A groundbreaking initiative led by Berkeley to steer information technology to the service of society survived the 2001-2002 state budget process. This action by Gov. Gray Davis and the legislature marks a bold investment in the state’s economic future at a time of intense budgetary pressure.

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, or CITRIS, which now is funded for $20 million this fiscal year with a $100 million commitment for the overall project, promises major energy savings for the state and nation. Among the innovative ideas already emerging is that of outfitting buildings with wireless sensor networks to monitor energy use — technology that could save as much as $8 billion in California’s energy costs and 5 million metric tons of carbon each year.

Funding CITRIS “is a tremendous success for the campus, the state and the nation,” said Paul Gray, executive vice chancellor and provost. “This takes information technology and applies it to areas in which it can really make a difference — health care, air traffic control, disaster preparedness, e-commerce and energy efficiency.”

“It is now up to our faculty and students, working shoulder-to-shoulder with our industrial partners and supporters, to truly make this vision a reality,” said College of Engineering Dean Richard Newton. This is “a wonderful outcome, demonstrating real leadership on the part of the state and especially by Gov. Davis himself.”

CITRIS — a partnership between Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis and UC Merced — was proposed to the state last year as one of three California Institutes for Science and Innovation, which are designed to conduct research in cutting-edge scientific fields critical to the state’s economic future.

Davis had promised to fund these centers for four years at $100 million each, but CITRIS was not among the three chosen last December. Still, Davis was so impressed with CITRIS’s promise — to use information technology to tackle major societal problems, including energy use — that he agreed to fund it as a fourth institute beginning in fiscal year 2002.

Working together with the UC Office of the President, Newton and Chancellor Berdahl briefed some two dozen legislators in Sacramento about CITRIS and urged support as the institute fell in and out of the budget during committee deliberations. Newton provided testimony before the Senate and Assembly budget committees that was critical in making the promise of CITRIS real to legislators.

In the end, CITRIS remained in the budget passed by the legislature and signed by Davis. In addition to state funding, CITRIS has garnered $250 million in support from business and industrial partners and federal and state research grants.

Other CITRIS projects could optimize traffic flow to conserve 37.5 million gallons of fuel annually; create an emergency lifeline network to save lives and minimize structural damage to buildings in an earthquake; serve more of California’s students through distance learning and the delivery of undergraduate curriculum to UC Merced; monitor health care with biomedical devices; prevent environmental damage; and develop efficient farming.

“After months of anticipation and planning the faculty of UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz and UC Merced are eager to begin full scale implementation of their research plans,” said James Demmel, professor of computer science and chief scientist and associate director of CITRIS. “CITRIS offers an unprecedented opportunity to have a positive impact on society.”

The three other California Institutes for Science and Innovation were funded for a second year at $25 million each, among them the California Institute for Bioengineering, Biotechnology and Quantitative Biomedical Research, called QB3, in which Berkeley plays a lead role. Funding comes out of the state’s capital projects budget.


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