26, No. 8, Oct. 19, 2006
Initiative seeks to keep UI at forefront of information revolution
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
Town Hall meetings
Illinois Informatics Initiative
All meetings will be from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the board room of the Alice Campbell Alumni Center, except as noted
*east half of the ballroom of the alumni center
The UI has long been a leader in information technology, having developed Mosaic, the first Web browser, and the ILLIAC computers, the first computers built and owned by an educational institution.
The Illinois Informatics Initiative, an organization under development on the Urbana campus, aims to keep Illinois at the forefront of the information revolution by integrating research, education, public service and economic development efforts related to information creation and sharing.
Informatics is broadly defined as the study of the structure and behavior of natural and artificial systems that store, process and communicate information and the development of technologies to implement artificial systems. The Illinois Informatics Initiative, also known as I3, is a key component of Chancellor Richard Herman’s Strategic Plan for the Urbana Campus, and “aims to invent the information environments of the future and educate those who will build and use them.
“The brief and remarkable history of the World Wide Web demonstrates that university research can have enormous social and technical impact on the rest of the world,” Herman wrote.
Although Illinois has been a leader in IT, its approaches to research, education and service in informatics have been diffuse, and I3 aims to coordinate and integrate those efforts to enhance its impact.
I3 will be a voluntary federation of units and individuals that will coordinate interdisciplinary informatics-related research, teaching, service and economic development activities across campus, but will not directly manage most of those activities.
I3 will help campus units incorporate informatics into their curricula, and will promote new cross-departmental academic programs, degrees and certificates and new multidisciplinary initiatives that will help Illinois compete for the best graduate students and faculty members.
Over the next five years, the campus strategic plan calls for establishing a campuswide undergraduate minor in informatics; for expanding the computational science and engineering degree program; for creating graduate programs in informatics that would include students in the humanities, social sciences and the arts, and for incorporating informatics into academic curricula across campus.
“It’s not about extending computer science or computer engineering,” said Marc Snir, the Michael Faiman and Saburo Muroga Professor of Computer Science and head of computer science. “It’s about helping units improve themselves by making sure they leverage informatics technology as much as possible and about creating new collaborations between informatics specialists and application areas. It is hard to imagine any area of research and education that is not deeply affected by computer technology and by the managing, analyzing and communicating of the large amounts of information made available by computers and communication technology.”
Informatics has become a staple of science and business and is now revolutionizing work in the arts, the social sciences and the humanities, making it relevant to most, if not all, academic disciplines and Illinois students.
“Familiarity with informatics, with information technology, is today as essential as familiarity with mathematics,” said Snir, chair of the Strategic Initiatives Informatics Task Group that Provost Linda Katehi has charged with developing I3. “I foresee a time where an IT requirement will be essential for any student on this campus, and the informatics minor is a way of moving in that direction.”
The Urbana campus is home to several large research centers with substantial informatics activities, including the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the Coordinated Science Laboratory. Snir said that I3 will differ from Beckman and NCSA in that it will cover all areas of informatics, will integrate informatics research with education and will be a virtual organization “that doesn’t need a big building and a large number of staff members, since the faculty will come from many different departments and will be tenants of those
I3 is being modeled after the computational science and engineering program, a virtual program that promotes collaborative initiatives within the College of Engineering. I3 seeks to play a similar role, but on a campus wide basis, promoting excellence in informatics research and education and new models for
Members of the Urbana campus community are invited to share their insights on the future of informatics at Illinois through a series of public meetings to be held at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center in Urbana during October and November (see above).