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Institute for Bioengineering, Biotechnology and Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3)


Q: What is CITRIS?

A: CITRIS, or the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, is a partnership between UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz to create information technology solutions to critical societal problems, particularly in the areas of transportation, education, emergency preparedness, health care and business growth. Many of these problems depend on widespread, reliable and secure information systems that adapt to the varied needs of users and continue to perform even if part of the system is down, disabled or under attack. With input from engineers, scientists and social scientists, the initial focus of CITRIS is to develop the technical foundations of such Societal-scale Information Systems (SISs) to meet many of California's needs within years, not decades.

Q: Why is CITRIS unique?

A: Information technology (IT) is transforming all aspects of society at an accelerating pace, from business systems and social and political infrastructure to many aspects of our personal lives. Yet, the current path for developing IT will, at best, severely under utilize its potential and, at worst, yield a fragile and disaster-prone IT infrastructure that cannot meet market demands and simultaneously leaves much of the general population behind. In addition, many of society's most vital needs, such as transportation, health care, education and emergency preparedness, do not receive adequate attention in the IT community. CITRIS will be the first large-scale project to tackle these needs.

Q: Where did the idea for CITRIS come from?

A: The idea for CITRIS began more than a year ago in response to several simultaneous changes taking place in the world and in the field of engineering. During a discussion of the future direction of UC Berkeley's Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences (EECS), the faculty agreed that the real opportunities for impact in research lay not in computer science for its own sake, but in its application to other areas in society and in industry. These professors realized the importance of applying information technology to other engineering disciplines and in areas beyond engineering, including the humanities, social sciences and the arts.

Independently, Professor Paul Gray, then dean of engineering at UC Berkeley, planned an off-site workshop to tackle key challenges facing engineering in the years to come, such as growth, distance education and lifelong learning, and the balance among the various engineering disciplines. In light of the rapid progress in applying information technology and computing to all fields related to science and engineering, a task force proposed to address a challenge articulated by Adib Kanafani, chair of UC Berkeley's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering: "We need to re-engineer engineering in the context of today's world."

Around this time, Gov. Davis proposed a new set of institutes - the California Institutes for Science and Innovation (CISI)- to be implemented on or near UC campuses. As soon as the request for proposals was released, professors Gray and A. Richard Newton asked professor James Demmel of EECS to solicit interest from the faculty and to investigate the possibility of proposing a cross-disciplinary research institute to tackle tough social problems using an information technology-centered approach. Demmel sent e-mail to the faculty in the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley, to other faculty across the Berkeley campus, and to groups at UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis as well. He was overwhelmed by the response. Altogether, more than 170 faculty replied enthusiastically that they wanted to participate.

Q: What role do the industry partners play in the research planned for CITRIS?

A: Gov. Davis envisioned the California Institutes for Science and Innovation as opportunities to create a new environment for industry-university collaborations in fundamental research and teaching. Thus, industry scientists will be invited to participate in research collaborations, be engaged in co-teaching new courses and provide internships for students.

CITRIS research will involve collaboration with founding corporate members as well as with many other affiliated companies. This close collaboration with industry is needed to disseminate key research insights and artifacts rapidly, thus maintaining and strengthening California's leadership in this field and benefiting its citizens and industry. This industry participation model also provides a natural mechanism for evaluating the relevance of the research and the technology transfer possibilities

Q: Will industry partners be the only ones to reap the commercial rewards of CITRIS research discoveries?

A. No. All CITRIS results are expected to be published and publicly disseminated to the research community and typically made available to the public on the Web. CITRIS wants to maximize the impact of its research, and the best way to ensure that is to make all results open to all on a royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide basis. This includes the source code of any software created, the content of databases and any other copyrightable material. Such openness is critical to maximizing the broad impact of the institute and its research, as well as for establishing CITRIS as a leader in these important new areas of research.

Q: Will any physical space be built or renovated to house CITRIS' research?

A: Depending on the level of support for CITRIS, two new buildings are planned. CITRIS I, to be built north of Soda Hall, the home of the computer sciences division, would house laboratories and offices. The second, CITRIS II, would be built on the site where Davis Hall is today. This larger building would house a Lifelong Learning Center, a micro/bio laboratory, plus laboratory and office space for collaborative research.


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