U. of Md.'s Research Stride

A number of awards have quietly transformed the University of Maryland into one of the nation's leading research institutions

The University of Maryland has quietly become one of the top recipients of high-tech funding from the Defense Department.

In a recent competition, the university won two of 22 highly-sought award University Research Initiative awards, second only to MIT. Those two programs, worth a combined $10 million over five years, are for research into computer vision and high-power microwaves.

"These two awards are particularly significant in that they recognize the university's ability to put together distinguished cross-disciplinary teams of engineers and scientists to address very challenging technological problems," said Dr. William Destler, dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering.

Dr. Victor Granatstein, director of the Laboratory for Plasma Research, won an award to assemble a team from the University's departments of physics, electrical engineering, mathematics, and materials and nuclear engineering. The aim of the program is to refine communication and radar technologies with both military and civilian applications.

Meanwhile, Dr. Azriel Rosenfeld, director of the Center for Automation Research, will coordinate machine vision efforts by the electrical engineering and computer science departments. Again, dual-use applications in both civilian and military applications will be the focus of the research.

These are just the latest in a number of awards that have quietly transformed the University of Maryland into one of the nation's leading research institutions.

Cohorts such as MIT, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon owe much of their reputation as research centers to Pentagon funding, particularly from the Advanced Research Projects Agency. MIT's legendary artificial intelligence researcher Marvin Minsky effectively tapped his military connections to build MIT's artificial intelligence lab. Stanford and Carnegie Mellon had similar success.

It's doubtful the University of Maryland will ever attain the influence these institutions once had in the computing industry -- and to a certain extent still have.

Partly, that's because Pentagon R&D funding is shrinking. But it's also because funding tends to get distributed more widely, and in smaller chunks. And the connections between university professors and high-tech startups -- which spawn many successful, professor-run startups at MIT, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford -- is largely absent.

Still, from high performance computing and machine vision to next generation interfaces and database mining, the University of Maryland has assembled one of the strongest university computer science departments in the nation. Its Human Computer Interaction Laboratory, with Professor Ben Shneiderman in charge, has become a recognized center of advanced research in the hot topic of user interfaces.

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