UC Berkeley hires prominent researcher with passion to improve lives
through new technology
04 October 2001
By Sarah Yang, Media Relations
< http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2001/10/04_Bajcsy.html >
"Berkeley - For pioneering researcher Ruzena Bajcsy, fostering
cutting-edge technology to improve people's lives is a noble challenge.
It is with this belief that Bajcsy comes to the University of
California, Berkeley on Nov. 1 as the new director of the Center for
Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS).
CITRIS brings together four UC campuses - Berkeley, Davis, Merced and
Santa Cruz - with private industry in an ambitious initiative to develop
innovative technology that tackles some of society's most pressing
problems. It is one of four California Institutes for Science and
Innovation born out of Gov. Gray Davis' call to develop the foundation
for the next generation of technologies.
Bajcsy is the former head of the Directorate for Computer and
Information Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation
(NSF), the federal agency that supports research in science and
engineering. During her tenure at the NSF, Bajcsy helped establish the
foundation's Information Technology Research program, which funds
innovative, high-impact research supporting infrastructure in
"The vision of where information technology research has to go as
articulated in that (NSF) program is exactly what we're doing at CITRIS.
We're taking IT (information technology) and using it in a way that
affects people in their daily lives," said Randy Katz, professor of
electrical engineering and computer science at UC Berkeley. Katz had
been serving as interim director of CITRIS during the center's initial
conceptual and organizational phases.
Initiatives at CITRIS include the development of a wireless network of
tiny, cheap sensors that could monitor energy use in a building to help
save electricity. Sensors could also be used in traffic monitoring
systems to save fuel otherwise wasted in congestion. People at risk for
heart attacks could wear sensors that could save lives by signaling
emergency personnel should a health problem occur.
"CITRIS is more than just developing new technology for its own sake,"
said Paul Gray, executive vice chancellor and provost at UC Berkeley.
"The projects that go on in the institute will be a marriage of
important applications, from the delivery of health care to developing
systems of climate monitoring."
CITRIS received $20 million in state funding this fiscal year, the first
of four installments of a $100 million state commitment to the overall
"We're fortunate to be able to attract someone of Ruzena's expertise and
experience," said A. Richard Newton, dean of the College of Engineering
at UC Berkeley. "For a project of this size and scope, we really needed
a leader with an international reputation and with extensive management
experience, but the most important thing about Ruzena is that she is
absolutely passionate about what we're going to do in CITRIS."
Bajcsy is a top scientist in her own right with more than 40 years of
research experience, most notably in the fields of robotics, artificial
intelligence and machine perception. At the University of Pennsylvania,
Bajcsy served as director of the General Robotics and Active Sensory
Perception Laboratory (GRASP), a world-renowned research lab she founded
Bajcsy's credentials reach across the traditionally discrete fields of
neuroscience, applied mechanics and computer science. She is a member of
both the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine,
a distinction few people can match.
"I studied biology and psychology because the best machine is the human
machine. After all, modern evolution is the best engineer you can
imagine," said Bajcsy. Understanding the needs of researchers in varying
fields has helped Bajcsy develop a strong track record for building
interdisciplinary consensus, a key skill needed in a CITRIS director,
As director, Bajcsy will be responsible for setting the research agenda
at CITRIS and communicating the center's vision to the general public,
legislators and private industry.
"She has demonstrated a real flair for synthesizing the views of many
different people with different backgrounds and expertise, and getting
them to work together productively," said Katz. "This skill will serve
her very well within the broad community of researchers that encompass
But Bajcsy's extensive professional credentials reveal only part of her
story. Born Jewish in Slovakia at a time when Adolf Hitler rose to
power, Bajcsy experienced the horrors of persecution firsthand. Her
parents and most of her relatives were killed by Nazi troops in 1944,
leaving her an orphan at the age of 11.
What Hitler's army could not kill, however, were the values Bajcsy's
family instilled in her as a young girl. Her love of engineering came
from her father, a civil engineer. Her interest in medicine and in
helping others came from her mother, a pediatrician. And the drive to
flourish in a field that to this day is underrepresented by women and
minorities came from her family.
"I grew up in a family where women were expected to hold their own," she
said. "My mother and my aunt were among the first female medical doctors
in the central Czech area. My grandfather believed women should be
Bajcsy went on to obtain her master's and Ph.D. degrees in electrical
engineering from Slovak Technical University in 1957 and 1967,
respectively. In 1972, she earned a second Ph.D., in computer science,
from Stanford University.
After graduating from Stanford, Bajcsy joined the faculty of the
University of Pennsylvania as an assistant professor in the Department
of Computer and Information Science. When she was promoted chair of the
department 13 years later, she became the first woman to hold an
academic administrative position at the university's School of
Engineering and Applied Science.
Bajcsy broke another barrier in 1998 when she became the first woman to
head the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate of
Grateful to have survived her tumultuous childhood, Bajcsy emerged with
the determination to make a positive impact on society. "You grow up
under that circumstance very quickly," said Bajcsy. "That puts a certain
value system into you. You quickly recognize what is important and what
is less important."
And what is important in technology research, said Bajcsy, is
understanding its impact on people. "We eventually have to make very
clear where the dangers can be in abusing the technology we develop,"
she said. "The sensor network for monitoring the environment, for
example, can be useful, but it can also bring up the question of privacy
and how it can be used to control people. These are issues beyond
technology. These are issues that are ethical and moral."
It is part of the responsibility of scientists to understand and to
address those tough ethical issues, said Bajcsy. "I'm a scientist, first
and above all, but I am also a scientist with great social consciousnes
excited about this center (CITRIS). Its aim is to investigate how this
technology I've been developing all my life is going to benefit society.
Otherwise, why are we designing all these artifacts if they're not going
to help people?"
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