Berkeley's Brainstorm

Article excerpt

West Coast innovators bet on a university collective

It's Cal Day at the University of California Berkeley, and A. Richard Newton, dean of the College of Engineering, is standing in front of a welcome desk, greeting prospective students at the open house. The mid-April weather is glorious, as is the view overlooking the aquamarine San Francisco Bay. Newton, sporting a hright smile and a Hawaiian-style shirt plastered with palm trees and school logos, shouldn't face too many obstacles in recruiting the best talent to the campus on a day such as this.

Under Newton's leadership, Berkeley, one of the world's top engineering schools, has recently broken ground on new headquarters for a six-year-old multi-disciplinarian research institute called the Center for Information technology Research in the Interest of Society, or CITRIS. The mission of the center is "to tackle six grand challenges through technology," says Newton, a cofounder of two major semiconductor companies, Cadence Design Systems and Synopsys. The six areas are energy, the environment, transportation, natural disasters, education and health care.

Among the corporate sponsors that have lined up to support CITRIS are Intel, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, IBM, Ericsson, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel Networks and Infineon Technologies, plus 11 associate corporate sponsors such as Cisco, Ford, BT and Siemens. The founding corporate partners have each pledged $1.5 million over four years and get to direct where their dollars go, says Newton. Patrick Scaglia of HP Labs calls CITRIS "the most expansive and ambitious multi-disciplinarian approach of the many universities" working on information technology breakthroughs.

Newton says CITRIS does not typically grant exclusive licenses, preferring to operate in an open source environment to encourage quicker adoption of new developments. …