Computing Beyond Silicon Summer School

Or How I Spent My Summer in Pasadena

PDF / Table of Contents

mug shots

There are revolutions at hand in the way we understand an implement computation, driven by an awareness of impending barriers to VLSI scaling and new understandings of the physical world. This fundamental shift in perspective allows us to contemplate engineering computational substrates at the molecular and atomic levels. To develop and exploit these new substrates will require an intimate understanding of both the physical substrates and the nature of computation, as well as the relation between them. Research and researchers whose competencies span across the disciplines will be necessary to drive progress in this area of novel computational substrates...

...Thus the read the opening paragraph of the announcement for the Computing Beyond Silicon Summer School (CBSSS). Coordinated by André DeHon, assistant professor of computer science, and Erik Winfree (PhD '98), assistant professor of computer science and computation and neural systems, the program brought together leading research faculty and 45 outstanding undergraduate and graduate students from many disciplines and institutions across the country (including Caltech). Part boot camp, part pleasure cruise, CBSSS served as an intensive four-week introduction to the emerging fields of molecular, biomolecular, and quantum computing. Lectures, reading assignments, and a paper and presentation project kept the students active. In between all this, students seized the opportunity to hang out with the guest lecturers, Caltech faculty, and each other. They came, they learned, they met future collaborators—and they had fun. A potent combination. And of course, ditto for the faculty and guest lecturers... As a prototype of ISTI's outreach program of summer schools, CBSSS's unique collection of people and ideas in one place at one time points to the future of Caltech as a hotbed of research in novel computational substrates.

For more information on who was there and what they did, go to

The CBS³ students gracefully posed for "mug shots" for posterity (see left). To engage the students beyond the lectures, the CBS³ faculty asked them to self-organize into small project teams to expand on issues related to or motivated by the subject matter presented in lectures. The students had roughly three weeks to focus in on a topic and put together a brief report. See the resulting collection of student reports. Almost none of the students were "experts" in the issues they studied when they entered the program. Nonetheless, these reports show that the multidisciplinary teams assembled were able to dig deeply into a number of interesting problems and point out some promising directions for further inquiry.