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NSF announces 2022 Expeditions in Computing awardees

The U.S. National Science Foundation announced the 2022 awardees of the Expeditions in Computing awards. The two awardees plan ambitious undertakings to explore emerging and transformative computing technologies to innovate superconducting materials, devices and circuits and develop organic, neuron-based computing systems.

NSF established the Expeditions program to leverage past successes and create transformative opportunities that will continue to advance computer information science and engineering research and development well into the future. This investment, part of NSF's mission to advance fundamental research that furthers emerging computing technologies and information science and engineering, commits $15 million in funding to each awardee over a 7-year period.

"Both of the 2022 awards support efforts that envision future materials for computing systems in a post-Moore's law era and that map out comprehensive research from the materials themselves to the higher-level application opportunities and societal benefits that can emerge from them," said NSF Assistant Director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering Margaret Martonosi.

"The 2022 Expeditions awards address ways to continue to expand the power of computing, as the era of CMOS — short for complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor — growth is nearing the end," added NSF Division of Computing and Communication Foundations Program Director Mitra Basu.

The 2022 Expeditions awardees are:

Expeditions: Mind in vitro: Computing with Living Neurons

Led by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign team, the Mind in vitro Expedition will develop science and technology to fabricate, model, program, scale and embody biological processors. For years, scientists have been working to make cells into computing elements. Now the team is developing living, neuron-based computing systems that are broadly programmable, responsive to stimuli and adaptable to their environment. The technology used in this project will break barriers that have prevented cellular substrates from recalling memory and will be written and composed into algorithms and behaviors.

Future applications from this research may range from neuroscience — through living models that can be assembled to test conditions under which given behaviors emerge — to robots that are creative in navigating unforeseen situations, problems and opportunities, or even to types of computer memory where abilities can be stored and allowed to mature and evolve.

"In this Expedition, we imagined computers and robots that are human designed, but living; that can be programmed, but whose behaviors are not specified — and instead, emerge," said Mattia Gazzola, principal investigator in this study. "These systems will grow, heal, learn and explore. They will open a new space of possibilities yet to be imagined."

Expeditions: DISCoVER: Design and Integration of Superconducting Computation for Ventures beyond Exascale Realization

Led by the University of Southern California team, this multi-university DISCoVER Expedition study will explore novel superconductor electronics as a viable post-complementary metal-oxide semiconductor computing technology. Superconductor electronics can deliver ultrahigh performance and energy efficiency at scale. The DISCoVER Expedition will pave the way for seminal innovations in integrated electronics, sustainable exascale computing, and acceleration of machine learning. DISCoVER will enable computing paradigms that can facilitate the modeling of climate change effects, detection of underground geological resources, enhancement of pharmaceutical drug design for personalized medicines and healthcare, and development of innovative smart materials and infrastructure.

"DISCoVER will methodically lower the technology transfer barriers related to physical scaling, integration complexity, tool support, and interfacing to room temperature electronics," stated Massoud Pedram, Expedition director and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Southern California. "The goal of this program is to contribute to the preeminence of the U.S. as a technological world leader by guiding future hardware and chip manufacturing investments," he concluded.

Learn more about the Expeditions in Computing program and visit nsf.gov.