Press Archive

Five Questions for Fran Berman

Published 05/24/2004

by Jonathan Sidener
Union Tribune

Fran Berman is director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California San Diego. Berman also directs the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure, a consortium planning improvements to the national computing infrastructure for research.

She founded the UCSD Grid Computing Laboratory for the study of hardware, software and collaboration technologies that allow scientists to link research computing networks. She is one of two principal investigators of the National Science Foundation-supported TeraGrid, the largest coordinated grid deployment project to date. Business Week recently named Berman one of the top women in the U.S. technology field.

Do people at cocktail parties ever ask what a supercomputer center does?

Absolutely. People ask me that all the time. The name is a little misleading. Of course we have really big machines, really fast computers that can do trillions of calculations per second. But it's really a place where science gets done. We have people researching evolution, weather patterns, biotechnology, all kinds of things. This is a fabulous job for me. My background is in computer science and my heart is in science.

What is grid computing?

Grid computing is the next step in the long evolution of computing. It's linking together computing platforms. It's more than fast connections. You can make a really fast car and really fast airplanes, but they have to be integrated to be effective. If I want to travel to the NSF (National Science Foundation) in Washington, D.C., I have to count on my car working. I have to count on the highway being open without too much traffic. The airport has to be working and so does the plane. And the cabs have to be running when I get to Washington.

Do you see any progress in the number of women entering scientific fields?

The only information I have is anecdotal, but the anecdotal information is pretty bad. It has not grown. I'm not sure if we're holding our own. Only 137 of the 1,500 or 1,600 full computer science professors in the U.S. are women. I think we're losing women all through the pipeline. We're losing them in grade school, in high school and at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I think computer science is worse than other areas of science.

What type of personal technology do you use?

I use technology as a tool. I have a PDA (personal digital assistant). I couldn't get by without my laptop and my cell phone. I don't use them a lot for recreation. The only time games get played on my phone is when my son gets ahold of it.

Will network security ever gain ground on hackers?

You have to start out by asking what you want to do with the network. The more sophisticated the applications you add, the greater the potential vulnerabilities. As we add applications, people discover vulnerabilities. We fix them and then we add new applications. The wonderful thing about working with science and technology is that it's always new and evolving. The difficult thing is that it's always new and evolving.