Brief Announcement of an NSF Workshop on

Distributed Information, Computation, and Process Management for Scientific and Engineering Environments

(A version of this document was published in
ACM SIGGROUP Bulletin, 19(2):31-32, August 1998)

Nicholas M. Patrikalakis
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department of Ocean Engineering, Design Laboratory
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307, USA,

The DICPM Workshop was funded by the National Science Foundation under grant IIS-9812601. All opinions, findings, conclusions and recommendations in any material resulting from this workshop are those of the workshop participants, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

An Invitational Workshop on Distributed Information, Computation, and Process Management for Scientific and Engineering Environments (DICPM) was held at the Hyatt Dulles in Herndon, Virginia, USA, on May 15-16, 1998. The objective of the workshop was to bring together domain scientists involved with the development and utilization of simulations of complex systems and computer scientists working on distributed intelligent repositories and process management. The application of further research efforts along these lines will help to increase the availability, effectiveness, and utilization of large-scale, multidisciplinary distributed scientific and engineering systems.

Funding for the workshop was provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The 51 participants were drawn from academia, industry, and government, including program managers from NSF, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The final detailed report of the workshop will be available after July 30, 1998, at the workshop web site.


The simulation of complex systems encompasses many domains, including physical systems, such as the oceans and the atmosphere, with a large variety of interacting processes and dynamic geophysical, chemical, and biological phenomena at disparate spatial and temporal scales. Additionally, these simulations may include sophisticated man-made systems encountered in the design and manufacturing of land, air, space, and ocean vehicles. Advances in the research on these complex systems generate new requirements for computational environments and infrastructure.

Workshop Themes

For motivational background, a series of formal presentations were given to a plenary session on topics such as distributed and collaborative systems, multidisciplinary scientific simulation, metadata for data and software, distributed workflow and process management, scientific and engineering archives and repositories, and engineering standardization efforts. Following these presentations, small breakout groups met informally to discuss specific issues and suggest avenues for future research efforts. This was followed by summary presentations by the chairs of the workgroups to a final plenary session, which was followed by an overall discussion.

Through these discussions, the following topics emerged as themes for future research: metadata, middleware and distributed resource discovery; component software and reusability; user interfaces and query languages for data navigation, exploration, and browsing; performance issues (e.g. scheduling, load balancing, compression, multi-resolution representations, etc.) relating to large datasets; distributed algorithms for search/retrieval, pattern recognition, and similarity detection; integration and heterogeneity; and modes of collaboration.

Although many diverse views were aired, a consensus did emerge that major problems inhibiting the widespread exploitation of multidisciplinary collaboration in scientific and engineering analysis and simulation were threefold:

  1. The lack of enabling computational infrastructure (e.g. distributed resource discovery and access, multi-resolution representation, integration of heterogeneous computational components, etc.);
  2. The narrow specialization of technical expertise and experience (e.g. domain science vs. computer science, theoretical science vs. applied science, industry vs. academia, etc.); and
  3. Institutional barriers to multidisciplinary cooperation (e.g. publication policy, funding, promotions, etc.).

Conclusions and Recommendations

Towards alleviating these barriers to effective multidisciplinary activities, the workshop proposed the following suggestions:

  1. That industry and government, in coordination with professional societies and the research community, foster collaborative research by providing funding explicitly for multidisciplinary projects, extending current initiatives;
  2. That the research community, professional societies, industry, and government find the means to provide financial support and career incentives to foster cooperation between computer and domain scientists and to encourage team-based approaches to multidisciplinary problems;
  3. That the research community, professional societies, industry, and government help to establish a national (and possibly, international) digital library for the physical sciences and engineering; and
  4. That the research community, professional societies, industry, and government cooperate to establish a global distributed information registry and repository (a ``virtual scientific marketplace'') for experts, tools, and procedures, possibly organized in terms of a product-oriented model for legacy data and software, and as a service-oriented model for a more flexible and easier-to-use agent-based information system.

DICPM Homepage
Workshop Participants
Workshop Program
Invited Presentations
Position Papers
Executive Summary
Workshop Report
Background Material
Photographs from the Workshop

Last modified: Jan 24, 1999