UC Berkeley Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing receives $35M grant

Photo of Simons Institute Melvin Calvin Laboratory
Lisi Ludwig/Staff
The Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing will use the grant to fund future research endeavors and academic mentorship programs.

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The Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at UC Berkeley received a $35.5 million grant Aug. 10 from the Simons Foundation that will be used beginning 2022.

The Simons Institute, which was launched in 2012 with a founding grant of $60 million, has conducted research on a broad range of topics, including machine learning, artificial intelligence, economics and data analysis, according to Peter Bartlett, the institute’s associate director. The organization’s fundamental aim is to bring researchers together to find solutions to a diverse range of issues, Bartlett added.

“We’re thrilled for what we’ve accomplished in the first eight years,” Bartlett said. “We bring leading researchers together, and that sort of collaboration leads in a lot of different directions that we continue to explore.”

Using funding from industrial partners and foundations such as the Simons Foundation, the institute aims to encourage individual and group research, particularly in the field of theoretical computer science, Bartlett said. Over the past few years, the Simons Institute has made multiple advancements in computer science, statistics and other fields with the help of research fellows and graduate students.

Bartlett added that the institute holds two programs for graduate students and postdoctoral students each semester, including a weeklong boot camp and three-weeklong workshops. In the past, these programs have covered societal issues, including implicit bias in artificial intelligence, and broader topics, such as cryptography.

“The Institute has played a pivotal role in the development of the nascent field of algorithmic fairness, which identifies the sources and nature of racial bias in a range of settings and seeks interventions to blunt the downstream effects of data bias,” stated a press release from the institute.

In addition to bringing together established researchers and graduate students, the Simon Institute’s programs also encourage undergraduate student participation, according to Bartlett. While the current COVID-19 pandemic has made it challenging to use the institute’s campus lab, Bartlett noted that undergraduate and graduate student turnout in public events and programs has been high.

One of the most important elements of the institute’s programs is the sense of community and mentorship it fosters, according to Bartlett. The press release added that the institute holds both formal mentorship programs for younger scientists and informal online social events that foster significant collaboration.

“It’s quite an exciting thing to bring together a group of experts, and there is a big benefit in the development of the workforce,” Bartlett said. “Having 16 to 20 research fellows within five years of their Ph.D. and putting them in close contact with leaders in those areas culminates in a mentoring program that has a sizable impact all around.”

Contact Aditya Katewa at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @adkatewa1.