Penn Engineering and Harvard Awarded $12 Million NSF Grant for Sustainable Computing Project

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The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science (Penn Engineering), together with collaborators at Harvard University, has been awarded $12 million by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to participate in a groundbreaking, multi-institutional research initiative that aims to lay the foundations for environmentally sustainable computing.

With the rapid growth of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and sensor systems, the demand for computer systems that offer both scalable performance and environmental sustainability has never been greater. However, despite recent efforts to achieve net zero carbon emissions, the computing industry’s energy usage continues to rise at an alarming rate, outpacing the growth of renewable energy installations.

NSF Expeditions in Computing: Carbon Connect — An Ecosystem for Sustainable Computing will be led by Benjamin Lee, Professor in Electrical and Systems Engineering and Computer Information Science at Penn Engineering, and David Brooks, Haley Family Professor of Computer Science at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Carbon Connect will redefine the way computer scientists approach environmental sustainability by establishing new standards for carbon accounting in the computing industry, with the aim of influencing future energy policy and legislation.

The project will pursue three main objectives to reduce the carbon footprint of information and communication technology: 

  1. Develop transparent and accurate carbon accounting methods, including standardized protocols for measurement and reporting. 
  2. Focus on creating innovative tools and strategies to reduce computing’s carbon footprint by 45% within the next decade. 
  3. Coordinate the design and management of future computer systems to deliver sustainable performance for artificial intelligence and virtual reality applications.

“We will explore technical solutions to computer systems design that account for the rapidly evolving regulatory landscape,” says Lee. “Carbon Connect will also shape those regulations by modeling computing’s environmental impact and identifying areas that require collective, coordinated action in industry and society.” 

In addition to its technical objectives, Carbon Connect will foster an interdisciplinary community of researchers in computer science, electrical engineering, industrial ecology and energy policy. By training the next generation of innovators and creating an academic-industry consortium, the initiative aims to accelerate the adoption of sustainable computing practices.

Working in collaboration with the Penn Engineering and Harvard team will be researchers at the California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Yale University and The Ohio State University.

For more information about Carbon Connect, please visit the NSF.