Johns Hopkins University has joined the Virtual Institute of Scientific Software, a new interdisciplinary virtual institute focused on bridging the gap between modern science and scalable complex software.
The effort at Johns Hopkins will be led by Alexander Szalay, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science and the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Physics and Astronomy.
“Software is increasingly the dominant investment in modern science and engineering projects. Many of our major science projects start from petabytes of data and use approaches such as deep neural networks to find new patterns, develop new insights, and identify promising paths forward,” said Sunil Kumar, provost of Johns Hopkins University. “The VISS is a highly innovative experiment to introduce professional software engineering principles into academic science and engineering projects, and Johns Hopkins is tremendously excited to be a critical part of this future-shaping endeavor.”
VISS—established with $40 million in funding over the next five years by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, and his wife Wendy, president of the Schmidt Family Foundation—will address the growing demand for software engineers with backgrounds in science, complex-data and mathematics who can build dynamic, scalable, open software to facilitate accelerated scientific discovery across fields.
In addition to Johns Hopkins University, a network of centers based at the University of Cambridge, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Washington will form the core of the new institute. Each software center will collaborate closely with Schmidt Futures’ network of Virtual Institutes, currently focused on the areas of earth science and astrophysics, and projected to grow this year into areas like advanced computing and manufacturing.
“Through its software development for science, VISS will accelerate the pace of scientific discovery by supporting longer term platforms and systems, encouraging best practices in open science, and providing access to techniques such as high-end computing, massive databases, and machine learning,” added Stuart Feldman, chief scientist at Schmidt Futures.
While science has become increasingly reliant on complex programming and technology, the majority of researchers lack the training or experience in software engineering, tools and methods to produce effective, reliable, and scalable solutions. As a result, successful research and scientific discovery is sometimes delayed as researchers looking to conduct further experiments struggle to adapt unstable and outdated programming. VISS seeks to improve the quality of research, accelerate advancements and encourage scalable open source solutions by providing scientific researchers with access to full-time professional engineers and state of the art technology to develop high quality, maintainable and adaptable software.
“Schmidt Futures’ Virtual Institute for Scientific Software is a core part of our efforts to mobilize exceptional talent to solve specific hard problems in science and society,” said Elizabeth Young McNally, executive vice president of Schmidt Futures. “Development of robust, well-engineered software is a critical public service when the software supports projects to make the world better.”