|The Leading Source for Global News and Information Covering the Ecosystem of High Productivity Computing / October 8, 2007|
Oct. 8 -- The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation and alumnus Frank Levinson '75 have combined to give Butler University gifts totaling $10.3 million as part of the $125 million ButlerRising Campaign. The money will be used to upgrade the university's science programs and buy its first supercomputer.
The $5.3 million grant from the Fairbanks Foundation will be used to create the Fairbanks Science Infrastructure Fund, an endowment "to improve an already excellent science program at Butler," said Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Funds will be spent to repair, replace and enhance equipment, make the university more competitive in attracting scientists to teach, and expand research opportunities for faculty and students. This will be done by adding more spaces for science students to participate in the Butler Summer Institute and funding student-faculty collaborations during the academic year so students will be able to do meaningful research and get paid for it as a job.
In addition, the Fairbanks Foundation funds will pay for "release time" from teaching for members of the science faculty interested in writing federal grant proposals to secure additional money for the sciences at Butler.
Levinson's $5 million gift, meanwhile, asks that LAS "explore what each department needs to go to the next level and create an environment that sets us apart from other good liberal arts colleges," Zimmerman said.
"Frank has changed the nature of the discussions on campus," the dean added. "He's encouraged departments to think: What does it mean to be at the cutting edge? What will it take to prepare your students to go to the best graduate schools in the world?"
In biology, that meant developing a meaningful relationship with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). Butler currently offers one tropical biology course every other year, in Belize. Now, the university will begin to teach tropical biology significantly more often, at the STRI facilities in Panama. The department has created opportunities for students to do research internships at STRI with non-Butler faculty and for Butler faculty to work at STRI.
In addition, Butler has hired a post-doctoral student to teach biological anthropology.
In physics, one of the things the department is considering is joining the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy, or SARA, a telescope consortium. "It would be a wonderful complement to the observatory we have on campus," Zimmerman said.
In computer science, Levinson's money will fund the purchase of the supercomputer. The supercomputer -- essentially two 7-feet-high and 3-feet wide racks of processing units that run hundreds of times faster than a conventional desktop computer -- will enable faculty and students to do advanced research, transform the teaching of math, computer science and the sciences at Butler, and help the university recruit the next generation of computer programmers.
"We are going to have an advantage if we train our students to write programs on this type of computer because the supercomputers of today are the desktops in 20 years," said Jon Sorenson, head of Butler's Department of Computer Science. "That's the trend. So we want our students to be prepared for the world where writing massively parallel programs is commonplace."
Levinson and Sorenson developed the supercomputer project collaboratively. They've also given it a nickname: The Big Dawg.
"The supercomputer really allows us to move into a new area and a new era of computing, physics and mathematics -- and probably biology and chemistry as well," Zimmerman said. "We will be one of the few institutions of our size with a supercomputer, and it will allow students to do real serious parallel programming on campus -- projects that otherwise they would not have been able to do."
Levinson's gift is to be spread out over five years, so many of the initiatives it will fund have not yet been determined.
"Frank is a very insightful, hands-on donor," Zimmerman said. "He is interested in working with faculty to determine the best way to ensure that his donation makes the largest possible impact on campus culture."
Source: Butler University