This Article is published in the March 2011 issue

NSF-CCC Workshop Explores Sustainability & IT

Computing Community Consortium

By Erwin P. Gianchandani and Ed Lazowska

About 60 leading researchers, program managers, and others gathered in Washington, DC, on February 3-4, 2011, to discuss new fundamental computing research opportunities that will arise as the nation and world seek long-term sustainable technologies and behaviors.

This two-day meeting (, co-sponsored by NSF’s CISE

Directorate and the Computing Community Consortium, sought to go beyond routine uses of information technology to identify high-risk, high-reward research directions in sustainability that,  as yet, may not have received adequate attention or funding.

The workshop comprised three sessions with plenary talks followed by breakout discussions and report-backs, as well as a fourth session that served as an integration/wrap-up period. Tim Killeen, NSF’s Assistant Director for Geosciences, helped set the stage at the outset by describing the Foundation-wide, multi-year Science, Engineering, and Education of Sustainability (SEES) initiative ( breakouts on the first morning focused on IT areas, such as cyber-physical systems, human-computer interaction, big data (including security and privacy), modeling and simulation. That afternoon, participants looked at application domains such as energy, transportation, and environment/climate. The next morning, three topics served as the basis for the breakout groups:  the data deluge; transparency of models; and systems integration.

Some highlights:

  • We learned about several large-scale projects that are meeting with success because computer scientists have been brought together with application domain experts rather effectively. For example, Carla Gomes (Cornell University) described her Expeditions project on computational sustainability broadly; Vipin Kumar (University of Minnesota) talked about his Expeditions project on climate modeling; and Dave Waltz discussed his Con Edison-funded work on machine learning and the electric grid.
  • We also heard from application domain experts who clearly articulated the role of basic computing research in their areas. For example, Michael Meyer (Georgia Institute of Technology)—a transportation systems engineer—gave an excellent overview of the transportation system, including where we are today, where we could be in the future, and how IT research is critical for facilitating/enabling this transition.
  • And Bill Tomlinson (University of California-Irvine; author of Greening for IT) gave a talk coupling technology with basic human needs, such as happiness and safety.

Several new ideas emerged from the discussions, such as the sustainability of sustainability data; the breadth of the sustainability space and the richness of the computational problems; and the challenges particularly for transportation.

The organizing committee hopes to have a final report describing the sustainability space—and particularly the role of computing research—in about a month. In the meantime, please visit the workshop website ( to review the full agenda, speakers’ slides, and two-page white papers from many of the participants, along with a wealth of other information. Videos of the plenaries and breakout group reports will be posted there shortly as well. In addition, join in on the discussion stemming from the workshop by providing your views on future directions at the intersection of sustainability and IT at

Special thanks to the members of the organizing committee for putting an outstanding workshop together in a short time frame:  Bob Sproull (Oracle; chair); Randy Bryant (Carnegie Mellon University; co-chair); DougFisher(Vanderbilt University); Carla Gomes (Cornell University); Krishna Kant (Intel Corporation & NSF); Bill Rouse (Georgia Institute of Technology); Prashant Shenoy (University of Massachusetts at Amherst); and Dave Waltz (Columbia University). And thanks also to everyone who contributed their time and ideas as participants!

In Other CCC News…

Welcome New Council Members

Under the terms of the cooperative agreement between the CRA and the National Science Foundation, CCC Council members serve three-year rotations.  In January, the CRA, in consultation with the NSF, appointed four new members to the Council, each with three-year terms through January 2014:  Deborah Crawford, Vice Provost for Research, Drexel University; Gregory Hager, Professor of Computer Science, Johns Hopkins University; John Mitchell, Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University; and Josep Torrellas, Professor of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In addition, Bob Sproull, Vice President & Director of Oracle Labs—whose previous term ended this year—has agreed to continue, and he was appointed to a second term effective through January 2014.

These appointments ensure 18 Council members with three-year terms, staggered such that about six rotate every January, plus Council Chair Ed Lazowska (University of Washington) and Vice-Chair Susan Graham (University of California-Berkeley).

Rotating off the Council this January were Bill Feiereisen (Intel Corporation); David Kaeli (Northwestern University); and John King (University of Michigan).


As reported previously, the CCC is providing a web resource for undergraduates seeking research opportunities. This resource, called the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Zone (URO-Zone)and located at, offers an introduction to computing research; examples of successful undergraduate computing research projects, including anecdotal stories of recent CRA and ACM undergraduate research awardees; and a growing list of possible opportunities. This website should be particularly useful and timely in the next few months, as undergraduates interested in getting involved in research this summer look for appropriate placements.

Research Visions Sessions

Finally, as part of its mission to identify major new research opportunities, the CCC is sponsoring a series of “research visions” sessions at several computing research conferences. The goal of these sessions is to break free of the shackles of the normal reviewing process while still requiring a paper. In this way, the “research visions” sessions differ from a “midnight session” of informal talks, in that the paper allows the ideas presented to be more broadly accessible. To incentivize submissions to these sessions, the CCC has offered travel awards to the top three papers/presentations, as judged by program committees or participants, and publicized the winners through the CCC Blog.

To date, three research visions sessions have been held—and the CCC has blogged about the results, including the top submissions:

Please take a look at these summaries—and be sure to contact the CCC if you would like to run a session at an upcoming conference or workshop you are organizing.

Designing a Digital Future

Five members of the CCC Council—Randy Bryant, Susan Graham, Anita Jones, Ed Lazowska, and Bob Sproull—served as members of the Working Group that advised the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on a recent assessment of the Federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program. The impact of the report—Designing a Digital Future—is already evident in the President’s FY2012 budget request. Complete information is available at:


Dr. Erwin Gianchandani (erwin@cra.orgis the Director of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) and the Computing Innovation Fellows Project (Ph: 202-266-2936; Fax:  202- 667-1066). Dr. Ed Lazowska is Chair of the CCC Council and Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington.