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Major Philanthropic Grant Will Create New Center to Advance Open-Source Software

The Georgia Tech College of Computing has received an $11 million grant from Schmidt Futures to create one of the four software engineering centers within the newly launched Virtual Institute for Scientific Software (VISS). The new center will hire half-a-dozen software engineers to write scalable, reliable, and portable open-source software for scientific research.

“Scientific research involves increasingly complex software, technologies, and platforms,” said Alessandro Orso, the software engineer and professor of computer science who is heading up the project. “Also, platforms constantly evolve, and the complexity and amount of data involved is ever-growing.”  The center's other leadership includes Irfan Essa, senior associate dean and professor of Interactive Computing, and Jeffrey Young, a research scientist in the School of Computer Science.

The result is that these software systems are often developed as prototypes that are difficult to understand, maintain, and use, which limits their efficacy and ultimately hinders scientific progress.

Software engineers are trained to address these kinds of issues and know how to build high-quality software, but their time is too expensive for a typical research project’s budget. In typical grants, software is often treated as a byproduct of research, meaning that limited funding is allocated for it.

That’s where Schmidt Futures comes in. Schmidt Futures is a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt that bets early on exceptional people making the world better. They are investing $40 million in VISS over five years at four universities: Georgia Tech, University of Washington, Johns Hopkins University, and University of Cambridge.

“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 Executive Vice President Elizabeth Young-McNally.

At Georgia Tech, the funds will hire a software engineering lead, as well as three senior and two junior software engineers. A faculty director and an advisory board will help guide the group’s work, which will include collaborations with Georgia Tech scientists.

"We are very proud to host one of the four inaugural Schmidt Futures Virtual Institute of Scientific Software centers,” said Charles Isbell, Dean and John P. Imlay Jr. Chair of Computing.

“Georgia Tech’s center will advance and support scientific research by applying modern software engineering practices, cutting-edge technologies, and modern tools to the development of scientific software. The center will also engage with students and researchers to train the next generation of software engineering leaders.”