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CICS Professor Emeritus Rick Adrion Publishes Book Detailing Role of National Science Foundation in Computing Research

Rick Adrion

UMass Amherst College of Information and Computer Science (CICS) Professor Emeritus Rick Adrion is part of a team of authors who have recently released the book, Computing and the National Science Foundation, 1950-2016: Building a Foundation for Modern Computing.

Along with co-authors Peter A. Freeman and technology historian William Aspray, Adrion wrote the book to address the influential role played by leadership teams at the National Science Foundation, especially the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (NSF CISE), much of which the authors say had never previously been documented.

Drawing on Adrion and Freeman’s extensive experience as senior leaders at the NSF, the book documents the establishment and furtherance of NSF computing and information science programs and the legacy of CISE over the course of more than sixty years, through a framework of accessible narratives. In their case studies, the authors trace how the NSF led efforts to broaden participation in computing in the United States through the creation and support of research computing facilities, programs for computers in education, institutional and professional societies, fundamental research, and computing and information infrastructure.

“CISE was a key player in the development of the internet, web browsers, search engines, modern encryption technologies, CAD/CAM, computer visualization, nanotechnology, high performance computing, data science, and artificial intelligence,” said Adrion. “I am proud to have played a part in this organization’s history.”

As a result of their efforts while performing research for the book, the team has put together a collection of more than 4,000 paper and electronic documents. “We undertook over 50 interviews with people associated with the NSF, most of whom held senior positions,” explains Adrion. “We also had access to a large number of source documents, memoranda, and materials from our own personal files from when we worked at the NSF.” The authors have donated this collection of documents to the Charles Babbage Institute (CBI) of the University of Minnesota, which is in the process of archiving the interviews and documents in order to make them publicly available.

Adrion currently serves as a professor emeritus at CICS, and previously served as chair of the computer science department. He has served several times as a senior manager at the National Science Foundation, most recently as a division director and senior advisor in CISE from 1999–2003. Previously, he held NSF positions including Senior Scientist, Deputy Division Director, and Program Manager. His current research interests are in teaching methods and environments, with a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion.