October 4, 2004
UCSC builds on landmark NASA contract to
expand UC presence in Silicon Valley
By Tim Stephens
With over 100 employees and funding for current research tasks
at about $18 million, the University Affiliated Research Center
(UARC) at Moffett Field has quickly become a dynamic center
of activity for UC Santa Cruz in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Managed by UCSC in partnership with NASA Ames Research Center
under a 10-year, $330 million contract between UC and NASA,
the UARC has received an excellent performance rating from NASA
during its first year of operation.
UC researchers, both at UARC facilities and at several UC campuses,
are now working together with NASA Ames researchers on a broad
range of NASA projects in areas such as air traffic management,
human space exploration, and nanotechnology. UC Santa Cruz is
planning to build on the success of the UARC by establishing
a technology and management complex for research and education
in the NASA Research Park.
"UCSC is working with NASA and Silicon Valley companies
to develop plans for a permanent facility, with the UARC as
the anchor tenant and its focus aligned to the interests of
Silicon Valley companies," said William Berry, managing
director of the UARC and deputy director of UCSC's Silicon Valley
The new facility would serve as a direct extension of UCSC's
Baskin School of Engineering, which is already creating new
programs based in Silicon Valley. A key focus area for the engineering
school, as well as for NASA Ames, is nanotechnology and its
fusion with biotechnology and information technologies.
"The economic revival of Silicon Valley industry and the
education of future workforces critically depend on our success
in research and education in bio-info-nano technologies and
in the management of technologies. The matching of research
foci between NASA and the Baskin School of Engineering is not
only timely, but also reinforces the strategic planning of our
engineering program to be on the frontiers of research and education,"
said Steve Kang, dean of the engineering school.
Most of the UARC research tasks are currently being carried
out in shared facilities at NASA Ames, but the UARC has also
begun placing research tasks at UC campuses. A project to develop
technology for human space exploration involves investigators
at the Santa Cruz, Davis, Irvine, and Berkeley campuses. The
UARC is also about to receive its first funding from NASA for
aligned research programs--$400,000 of discretionary money that
will be awarded to UC researchers for new projects related to
"We're very excited about that because it allows us to
pursue new research directions. The research will be broadly
aligned with the mission of the UARC and focused on building
future collaborations with NASA," Berry said.
UCSC researchers working at Moffett Field are currently carrying
out research tasks for the UARC in three areas: aerospace systems,
information technology and computer science, and nanotechnology.
The UCSC employees hired to work on these projects include both
staff researchers and project scientists with academic appointments,
said Larry Hogle, research project director for the UARC.
In aerospace systems, the majority of the work focuses on air
traffic management as part of a long-term NASA research effort
to develop advanced air traffic management software and support
tools. "The goal is to improve air traffic flow so as to
optimize capacity both in the air space and on the ground at
the airports," Hogle said.
The UARC's information technology and computer science mission
encompasses a range of research tasks, most of which provide
support for human space exploration. For example, spoken dialogue
systems are a key technology for many NASA projects, promising
to enable astronauts and others to interact with complex diagnostic
and control systems using spoken-language interfaces.
In nanotechnology, part of the research effort involves computational
approaches, such as large-scale computational simulations and
theoretical modeling of the properties and behavior of nanostructured
materials (materials made from nanometer-scale building blocks).
Computational nanotechnology complements and supports the experimental
nanotechnology research carried out by UARC researchers in collaboration
with the NASA Ames Center for Nanotechnology. This work focuses
on the design and manufacturing of devices such as nanoelectronic
sensors that NASA could use in the exploration of the solar
system and the possible detection of extraterrestrial life.
The integration of nanotechnology with biotechnology and information
technologies promises to yield innovative solutions to NASA's
needs, Berry said. "The bio-info-nano convergence is an
area where we expect to see significant growth over the next
few years," he said.
In addition to the UARC's research mission, its Systems Teaching
Institute (STI) is helping to build NASA's future workforce.
UCSC and San Jose State University are partners in the institute,
which provides mentoring and other programs to recruit and support
students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Since its formation in early 2004, STI has begun an internship
program with ten students currently working as interns on a
variety of research projects at NASA Ames. Each student is partnered
with a NASA scientist who serves as his or her mentor and oversees
the internship. Students range in academic level from high school
to third-year Ph.D. candidates and come from a variety of institutions
throughout the region.
The natural alignment between UCSC's strengths in science and
engineering and NASA Ames's research mission is yielding benefits
for both partners in the UARC, Berry said. A similar alignment
with the interests of Silicon Valley industry is leading to
growing ties between UCSC and leading Silicon Valley companies.
The UARC is playing an important role in building industry relationships
for UCSC, in concert with a new academic program in Information
Systems and Technology Management (ISTM), Berry said.
ISTM is an interdisciplinary field at the nexus of engineering
and business management, and the ISTM program will eventually
be a new department in UCSC's Baskin School of Engineering.
ISTM faculty have offices on campus and at UCSC's Silicon Valley
facilities. The graduate program, as well as some upper-division
courses for undergraduates, will be based in Silicon Valley,
said Ram Akella, professor and director of ISTM.
"Our laboratories are the high-tech industries. We are
like anthropologists, only the tribes we study are here in Silicon
Valley," Akella said. "We look at issues such as supply
chain management, new product development, and how you can use
information technology to improve the way companies do business."
Akella has worked extensively with the semiconductor industry,
U.S. software companies, and many other companies in the U.S.,
Europe, and Japan. He said the ISTM program at UCSC is unlike
any other program in the country.
"Engineering schools don't teach management, and management
schools don't teach engineering. We combine everything, and
that's what makes it unique," Akella said.
Two new faculty are joining the program this year, and Akella
said he is using his connections with Silicon Valley industry
and NASA Ames to bring in industry professionals to help teach
courses and as adjunct faculty.
"The talent pool is tremendous, and everyone is very excited
about UCSC's Silicon Valley Initiative," he said.
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