Rice tapped for role in computing research center

Domain-specific computing project aims for better medical technology

Special to the Rice News

A $10 million National Science Foundation (NSF) Expeditions in Computing grant to Rice University and three other universities will help develop high-performance, customizable computing that could revolutionize the way computers are used in health care and other important applications.


The grant will support the creation of a collaborative Center for Domain-Specific Computing (CDSC), which includes researchers from UCLA’s engineering school, medical school and applied mathematics program, Rice, Ohio State University and UC Santa Barbara. The multi-university center will be directed by Professor Jason Cong from UCLA. Rice’s Vivek Sarkar, the E.D. Butcher Professor of Computer Science and professor of electrical and computer engineering, will serve as associate director. The grant includes $1.5 million for Rice’s research efforts.

Domain-specific computing differs from general-purpose computing by utilizing custom-constructed computer languages tailored to a particular area or domain — in this case, medical imaging. This customization ultimately results in less computing effort, faster results, lower costs and increased productivity.

The CDSC is one of three proposals selected in the latest round of awards under the NSF’s Expeditions in Computing program. The program, established last year by the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering, supports ambitious, fundamental research agendas that promise to define the future of computing and information and render great benefit to society. Funded at levels up to $2 million per year for five years, Expeditions is among the largest single investments currently made by the directorate.

Sarkar said the research will demonstrate how new technology known as domain-specific computing can transform the role of medical imaging by providing energy-efficient, cost-effective and convenient solutions for preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.

“We’re looking forward to domain-specific computing as an approach to tackling the parallelism and energy challenges in future multicore systems,” Sarkar said. “The fact that our work will begin in the critically important health care domain is a huge motivation for the entire team.”

Richard Baraniuk, the Victor E. Cameron Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice, will also play a leading role in the research.

“My efforts will be aimed at advancing the state of the art of medical imaging algorithms by building on our ongoing work on compressive sensing,” Baraniuk said. “A new approach to computing is needed to drive these innovations forward, so it’s great to be working with Vivek and the UCLA team on this joint computer science and electrical and computer engineering project.”

Rice’s participation signals its continued commitment toward pioneering new computing advances, said Sallie Keller-McNulty, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering.

“We hope that this exciting work can serve as a catalyst for new collaborative research projects with our fellow Texas Medical Center institutions,” Keller-McNulty said.

Funding for the program was made possible via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The grant will allow researchers to integrate the project with education at the participating universities and expose graduate, undergraduate and high school students to new concepts and research in domain-specific computing. Joint courses will be developed, as will summer research fellowship programs for high school and undergraduate students. Educators hope that underrepresented students can be attracted to participate with the help of campus organizations that focus on diversity.

–Dwight Daniels is a science writer at Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering.


About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.