Today’s world is connected by largely hidden but highly complex information networks. The speed at which this interconnected environment evolves is both exhilarating and daunting. Such technology has the power to unite us, can address some of our most difficult problems, and allows previously unimaginable human achievements. However, the complexity of our highly connected global community also makes us vulnerable to catastrophic failures and criminal interference.
Making sense of the immense amounts of data that this complex information environment provides also presents a significant challenge. Researchers in the College of Engineering use visualization technology to transform data into images or environments; they can illustrate the evolutionary morphology of a monkey skull, allow humans to immerse themselves in virtual environments, map and manipulate the curves and surfaces of an airplane wing, or visualize the finest detail in wind patterns or a river’s flow. They find novel ways to increase the speed and efficiency of computation while using less energy; they invent strategies to increase the reliability and security of wireless networks; and they secure the critical data that is the foundation of our economic well-being, while they devising new ways to perform complex tasks.
Computer scientists serve as vital connectors in a cross-disciplinary research environment, applying their expertise and invention to problems in chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, environmental science, agriculture and numerous other disciplines.
Current research impacts the wide range of factors that contribute to quality of life. For example:
Making sense of immense oceans of data
Scientific discovery is in the midst of an amazing revolution, with researchers able to probe matter at its most fundamental levels. However, such research yields immense amounts of data, at the peta-scale (quadrillions of elements) and beyond—more information than the human mind can process in any meaningful way.
Professor Kwan-Liu Ma and his research group develop advanced techniques for data visualization, examining large amounts of information at various levels. Ma and his colleagues are devising techniques for transforming the oceans of information from scientific analysis into computer graphics that reveal patterns and relationships. Researchers are able to interact with their data to better understand it. Moreover, computer animations can be more effective at showing and explaining complex, dynamic processes, relationships and structures hidden in data. Ma’s research also refines and simplifies the interface between the scientific observers and their data to help them keep track of their visualization experience and findings, generate new visualizations and share them with others.
Creating secure, mobile wireless networks for the military
Life today is increasingly connected by a web of wireless network communications. In addition to the benefits such technology brings to average citizens at home, in the corner coffee shop and in cities and towns, wireless communications networks also find important application in the military. While security and reliability of wireless networks is important in every case, it is especially critical in the military.
Under the leadership of Prasant Mohapatra, professor and the chair of the Department of Computer Science, College of Engineering researchers are part of the multi-university Communication Networks Research Center, whose research, funded by a $35.5 million, 10-year grant from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, will contribute to secure, mobile wireless networks for the military.
Mohapatra and his colleagues focus on the science and foundational theories behind creating secure and trusted networks that are capable of supporting a mix of highly mobile individual soldiers, ground vehicles, airborne platforms, unmanned aerial vehicles, robotics, and unattended ground sensor networks that can withstand interference and jamming and can reconfigure themselves rapidly as needed.
Making extremely energy-efficient processor chips for devices
Increasing demand for faster, more reliable and efficient every day and specialized devices—cell phones, MP3 music players, video equipment, anti-lock brakes, ultrasound and MRI medical imaging machines—creates a corresponding demand for power, quickly using up batteries and consuming energy.
UC Davis engineers, lead by Bevan Baas, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, designed a new, extremely energy-efficient processor chip that answers this problem. The 167-processor chip, dubbed AsAP, is super fast and extremely energy efficient, providing breakthrough speeds for a variety of computing tasks.
The AsAP is ultra-small, fully reprogrammable and highly configurable, as well, so that it can be widely adapted to a number of applications. Maximum clock speed for the 167-processor AsAP is 1.2 gigahertz (GHz), but at slower speeds its energy efficiency soars. Twelve chips working together could perform more than half-a-trillion operations per second (.52 Tera-ops/sec) while using less power than a 7-watt light bulb.
A battery powering the AsAP chip will typically last from several times to 75 times longer than it would under the same workload when powering some of the common commercially available digital signal processing chips. It gets 10 times better speed than is currently available, all with a much smaller chip.