first in-depth analyses on whether people recall information better through virtual reality as opposed to desktop computers

Expeditions in Computing Awards

The Expeditions in Computing program plays a significant role in advancing the fields of computer science and engineering. The program supports ambitious, large-scale and interdisciplinary research projects that have the potential to transform computing and address major scientific and societal challenges. 

Expeditions projects focus on creating transformative technologies, methodologies and infrastructure that can be adopted by the broader research community, industry or society at large. The program emphasizes the translation of research outcomes into practical applications, thus driving advancements in computer science and its real-world applications.

Established in 2008, Expeditions represent some of the largest investments provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

Expeditions in Computing topics

A quantum computer based on superconducting circuits. Dilution refrigerator is opened to expose the control system.
A quantum computer based on superconducting circuits. Dilution refrigerator is opened to expose the control system.

Credit: Yongshan Ding, University of Chicago

Expeditions in Computing supports long-term, cutting-edge research that looks ahead by at least a decade. These large-scale projects often involve teams from several departments or institutions. The projects explore challenging research problems with the potential to yield tremendous benefits to society.

Past awards have covered topics including:

  • Sustainability.
  • Robotics.
  • Wireless/internet.
  • Limits of computation.
  • Molecular programming/synthetic biology.
  • Health care and well-being.
  • Big Data.
  • Formal methods/verification.

2022 Expeditions in Computing awards


Mind In Vitro: Computing With Living Neurons
Lead institution: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Lead principal investigator: Mattia Gazzola

DISCoVER: Design and Integration of Superconducting Computation for Ventures Beyond Exascale Realization
Lead institution: University of Southern California
Lead principal investigator: Massoud Pedram

Pod containing neuron sphere with embedded electronics
Pod containing neuron sphere with embedded electronics, from Mind in Vitro: Computing with Living Neurons, an NSF Expedition in Computing award winner.

Credit: Andrew Dou at Gazzola Lab, UIUC

2020 Expeditions in Computing awards

Heterogenous spatio-temporal spread pattern in COVID-19 cases per 100K for different waves
Heterogenous spatio-temporal spread pattern in COVID-19 cases per 100K for different waves

Credit: University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute


Global Pervasive Computational Epidemiology
Lead institution: University of Virginia
Lead principal investigator: Madhav Marathe

Understanding the World Through Code
Lead institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Lead principal investigator: Armando Solar-Lezama

Coherent Ising Machines (CIMS) for Optimization, Machine Learning and Neuromorphic Computing
Lead institution: Stanford University 
Lead principal investigator: Hideo Mabuchi

2018 Expeditions in Computing awards


Secure, Real-Time Decisions on Live Data
Lead institution: University of California, Berkeley
Lead principal investigator: Ion Stoica

Enabling Practical-Scale Quantum Computing
Lead institution: The University of Chicago
Lead principal investigator: Frederic Chong

Computational Photo-Scatterography: Unraveling Scattered Photons for Bio-imaging
Lead institution: Rice University
Lead principal investigator: Ashutosh Sabharwal

Three students wearing orange glasses, seated in front of a computer and a monitoring device.
Rice University graduate students perform optical imaging technique tests for non-contact, remote monitoring of vital signs and methods to force fluids through bodily tissues.

Credit: Vivek Boominathan, Rice University

2016 Expeditions in Computing awards

BU Hardware 2022 iGEM project: AM1
BU Hardware 2022 iGEM project: AM1

Credit: BU Hardware 2022 iGEM team


The Science of Deep Specification
Lead institution: Princeton University 
Lead principal investigator: Andrew Appel

Evolvable Living Computing—Understanding and Quantifying Synthetic Biological Systems' Applicability, Performance, and Limits
Lead institution: Boston University
Lead principal investigator: Douglas Densmore

CompSustNet: Expanding the Horizons of Computational Sustainability
Lead institution: Cornell University
Lead principal investigator: Carla Gomes

2013 Expeditions in Computing awards


Molecular Programming Architectures, Abstractions, Algorithms, and Applications
Lead institution: Caltech
Lead principal investigator: Erik Winfree

Visual Cortex on Silicon
Lead institution: Penn State
Lead principal investigator: Vijaykrishnan Narayanan

tweezers placing a computer chip on a screen.
Computer chips that emulate how the brain processes visual information could be used to develop new kinds of cameras and sensors to aid visually impaired persons, provide driver assistance capabilities for reducing automotive accidents, and augmented reality systems for enhanced shopping, travel and safety.

Credit: UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

2012 Expeditions in Computing awards

A child wearing headphones looks attentively at a furry red robot.
A child plays an interactive language learning game with Tega, a socially assistive robot.

Credit: Personal Robots Group, MIT Media Lab


ExCAPE: Expeditions in Computer Augmented Program Engineering
Lead institution: University of Pennsylvania
Lead principal investigator: Rajeev Alur

Making Sense at Scale with Algorithms, Machines and People (AMPLab)
Lead institution: University of California, Berkeley
Lead principal investigator: Michael Franklin

An Expedition in Computing for Compiling Functional Physical Machines
Lead institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology 
Lead principal investigator: Daniela Rus

Making Socially Assistive Robots
Lead institution: Yale University
Lead principal investigator: Brian Scassellati

2010 Expedition in Computing awards


Variability-Aware Software for Efficient Computing With Nanoscale Devices
Lead institution: University of California San Diego
Lead principal investigator: Rajesh Gupta

Understanding Climate Change: A Data-Driven Approach
Lead institution: University of Minnesota
Lead principal investigator: Vipin Kumar

Computational Behavioral Science: Modeling, Analysis and Visualization of Social and Communicative Behavior
Lead institution: Georgia Tech
Lead principal investigator: James M. Rehg

A tiny solar-powered sensor system sits on a penny.
Sensor processing chips like the smallest solar-powered sensor system, developed in the lab of Variability co-PI Dennis Sylvester at the University of Michigan, is an example of the trend to millimeter-scale devices with nano-scale parts that perform more variably than traditional computer components. For more on the Phoenix 2 chip, watch the video at

Credit: Dennis Sylvester, University of Michigan ECE

2009 Expeditions in Computing awards

Inspired by the biology of a fly, the RoboBee has submillimeter-scale anatomy and two wafer-thin wings that flap almost invisibly, 120 times per second. The tiny device not only represents the absolute cutting edge of micromanufacturing and control systems; it is an aspiration that has impelled innovation in these fields by dozens of researchers across Harvard for years.

Credit: Photos courtesy of Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences


RoboBees: A Convergence of Body, Brain and Colony
Lead institution: Harvard University
Lead principal investigator: Robert Wood

Customizable Domain-Specific Computing
Lead institution: UCLA 
Lead principal investigator: Jason Cong

Formal Analysis of Complex Systems
Lead institution: Carnegie Mellon University
Lead principal investigator: Edmund Clarke

2008 Expeditions in Computing Awards


Understanding, Coping With and Benefiting From Intractability
Lead institution: Princeton University
Lead principal investigator: Sanjeev Arora

Computational Sustainability: Computational Methods for a Sustainable Environment, Economy and Society
Lead institution: Cornell University
Lead principal investigator: Carla Gomes

Open Programmable Mobile Internet 2020
Lead institution: Stanford University
Lead principal investigator: Nick McKeown

Molecular Programming Project
Lead institution: Caltech
Lead principal investigator: Erik Winfree

Programming languages for specifying molecular components and systems
Conceptual representation of programming languages for specifying molecular components and molecular systems, part of the Molecular Programming Project.

Credit: Lulu Qian, Caltech