Dean Rocky Kolb. (Courtesy Physical Sciences Division)



This article originally appeared in the 2016 issue of Inquiry, the annual publication produced for University of Chicago Physical Sciences Division alumni and friends.
A calculated improvement

Note from the dean.

When the computer was invented depends on your definition of “computer.” Was it Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, designed in the mid-19th century but never built? Was it Bell scientist George Stibitz’s 1939 “Model K” Adder? Regardless of your definition, history proves these computer things are more than a flash in the pan.

Not just scholarship and education but the very human experience has been transfigured by computation. Of growing scientific and societal importance, the field of computer science is at the heart of this transformation. In the past few years, our computer science department has grown by more than a third. With the appointment of Michael Franklin as the Liew Family Chair of Computer Science, the department continues its faculty expansion, building on its excellence in theoretical research and further strengthening its systems research expertise.

The department is also committed to a new focus on data science. Research in virtually every discipline yields massive data sets, while progress simulating complex systems offers platforms for unprecedented analysis. A solid data science sector both reflects and supports the broad influence of computer science.

With the expansion of the department’s size and scope and the growing culture of engineering that gave rise to the Institute for Molecular Engineering, we have the opportunity to reconceptualize the computer science department. In a university-wide commitment, computer science will integrate fundamental, engineering, and social science research to drive collaboration across divisions.

To that end, in 2018 the department will relocate to the renovated John Crerar Library, which will also house the Computation Institute, the Research Computing Center, and a computational commons that will support computational services and education. This move is yet another step toward the division’s goal of having every department in new or renovated space by 2022.

UChicago’s computer science department will serve as a center of gravity to address intense computational problems, to advance data-oriented research, and to serve as an incubator for new ideas and technologies.

Who knows what computers will look like in 100 years. But they’ll probably be handy, and we plan to have a hand in that future.