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Scientist asks Nashville help, VU institutes move to Music Row
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ISIS' Janos Sztipanovits (L),
ISDE's Ron Schrimpf

Two of the nation's most prominent information-sciences institutes will relocate to Music Row in 2009. Meanwhile, one scientist says they need more help from Nashville.

About 130 scientists and staff associated with the Institute for Software Integrated Systems (ISIS) and the Institute for Space Defense Electronics (ISDE) will take over the entire 40,000-square foot office building at 1025 16th Avenue South.

Together, the institutes are strongly allied with peers within Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), NASA, Boeing, Qualcomm, Carnegie Mellon University, BAE Systems, the National Science Foundation, U.S. Air Force, Sandia and Oak Ridge National Laboratories and more than 40 other companies, agencies and scientific institutions.

The institutes' relocation should be relatively easy, because, to the surprise of most Nashvillians, the two new tenants are currently housed in tighter quarters on the main campus of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt School of Engineering Dean Ken Galloway yesterday confirmed for VNC that his school is mortgagee for the property, which county tax records say was purchased by Vanderbilt for $6.1 million.

In an earlier interview with VNC, ISIS Director Janos Sztipanovits explained the relocation not only provides needed space, but will also probably help Vanderbilt, at least marginally, in recruiting sought-after scientists and graduate students who are prerequisite to sustaining his institute's mission.

Galloway (at left) agreed the new facility should be helpful, and stressed that ISIS has spawned many benefits for Vanderbilt and the engineering school, but has heretofore only had "adequate," rather than "exceptional" facilities.

The challenge of securing the future of Nashville-based scientific endeavors goes far beyond real estate, said Sztipanovits. It is far more important, he said, that Nashville and Tennessee demonstrate stronger appreciation and support for scientific research and development within the state.

With about $12 million in grants under contract each year, Sztipanovits stressed that even though ISIS is "very much in the forefront" in key scientific fields, competition for key allies and major funding has become increasing fierce during the past five years, creating a "volatile" environment for securing the financial support that is crucial to sustaining faculty and staff.

"We need to remain awfully competitive" in future years, he added, and ISIS needs Nashville and Tennessee to help. In fact, he said, to sustain ISIS and other advanced research long term, it is essential that Nashville and Tennessee become known as "a vibrant high-tech area...where the government knows about [scientific efforts underway] and aspires to help" expand the research and development enterprise.

Sztipanovits said that because "the biggest value is always retaining the best people," the local scientific community needs Nashville's support.

He explained that the very best scientific talent is hotly recruited by competing institutions, and sought-after faculty and students are often very concerned that the community they choose demonstrates dynamic interest in sciences and technologies, as well as in commercialization of technologies and entrepreneurial activity.

Thus, Sztipanovits said he believes Metro Nashville government should, among other things, act in meaningful ways to help breed "a cloud" of small aggressive companies that would partner with campus scientists to provide such things as summer employment with industry, and which could collaborate with scientists in pursuing major grants and then help commercialize technologies and knowledge produced on campus.

Collaboration with industry is crucial, he said, because while scientists must focus most of their energies on their work, in the "brutally competitive research business" we must also "push out" technology through commercialization, which requires ready access to a highly motivated business community.

Offering an example of collaboration, he said ISIS has "a fantastic relationship" with The Mathworks, a Boston-area company that provides software for technical computing and model-based software design of the sort in which ISIS specializes, "and they hire our engineers and Ph.D.'s."

Moreover, ISIS and Mathworks are actively discussing creating a laboratory facility here in Nashville. However, Sztipanovits would like to develop similar relationships with companies here.

Whether it's by creating an industry research and development park or other tactics, he said, scientists need Nashville to act in ways that demonstration "there is an intention, a commitment...to creating a first-class vibrant research environment."

Sztipanovits said that, lest anyone dismiss the importance of creating a richer scientific culture within the community, he believes that sometimes when certain types of grants are awarded, and it's a close call, awards may go to competing researchers who are based in communities with stronger reputations for science and technology.

Without greater community focus on science and technology, he said, ISIS and other scientists will continue to be at a disadvantage when competing with the relatively "massive size" of research infrastructure within such institutions as the Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford Research Institute and the University of Southern California - where, by the way, the USC Information Sciences Institute's website boasts its location on the beach at Marina del Rey.

Sztipanovits, who earned his Ph.D. at the Technical University of Budapest in 1982, is, himself, much in demand. Among other roles, he is a member of the U.S. Air Force Science Advisory Board and participates in an NSF-sponsored group that is developing a national research agenda aimed at integrating physical and information sciences. He has helped lead the Association for Computing Machinery's working group on embedded systems, and was a key speaker when a major ACM conference convened here in Nashville, for the first time, in October.

Ten-year-old ISIS will take about 100 scientists and staff to Music Row, while ISDE will house about 30. ISIS conducts basic and applied research in software design, development and tools; works with information systems, science and engineering; and, spawns technologies ranging from small devices embedded in larger systems, to globally deployed "systems of systems."

Meanwhile, ISDE, directed by Prof. Ron Schrimpf, focuses on design and analysis of radiation-resistant electonic components and systems. VNC was unable to reach Prof. Schrimpf prior to deadline for this story.

As described in a Vanderbilt School of Engineering brochure, at ISDE researchers work to "determine ways to protect integrated circuits and semiconductor devices from radiation by studying radiation effects in the laboratory and by computer modeling and simulations... The accumulated effect of the radiation degrades performance and can ultimately destroy the computer." ISDE partner are predominantly U.S. military departments and agencies.

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Tags: Air Force, Boeing, economic development, information systems, innovation, Institute for Software Integrated Systems, Institute for Space Defense Electronics, ISIS, Janos Sztipanovits, Navy, Ron Schrimpf, software, sponsored research, technology, Vanderbilt School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University


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