FEST Winner's Research May Revolutionize Computer Design

May 31, 2007 -- Kim Hazelwood, assistant professor of computer science, is tackling modern computer design challenges in an entirely new way. Her proactive idea for a virtual interface that enables hardware and software to communicate and problem-solve recently earned her a $50,000 award from the Fund for Excellence in Science and Technology (FEST) Distinguished Young Investigator Grant program.

As the demand for computers to become ever smaller and faster increases, so do design challenges. Engineers today have many more considerations beyond basic performance, such as security and power consumption — as anyone who has traveled with a laptop knows. And as components get tinier and are packed closer together, heat dispersion becomes critical.

Computer engineers have long tried to optimize computer systems by instituting changes based within the hardware, but according to Hazelwood, targeting this single layer is limiting. She notes that traditionally, the interface between hardware and software has been fixed. “We are looking forward to what we need to do to fundamentally change this — to engineer software that can communicate between the two layers,” she says. Hazelwood is using the FEST grant to help design Tortola—a middle layer between hardware and software that can translate and communicate between software and hardware, allowing for cooperative problem solving. “This middle layer would allow software to adapt to the hardware it’s running on, something engineers have not been able to do in the past,” she says.

Hazelwood cites a famous Intel mishap where microprocessors were distributed before a flaw in their fine mathematics function was detected, resulting in a massive recall. A system like Tortola could prevent such expensive glitches in the future. “We could use the software to hide flaws in the hardware, which would allow designers to release products sooner because problems could be fixed later,” explains Hazelwood.

Hazelwood’s FEST funds will be used to support graduate students to assist with Tortola and also for the computing infrastructure needed for further testing and simulation. Hazelwood already has collaborative ties with researchers at Intel and IBM that place her in an ideal position to eventually commercialize the technology her lab develops.

The commercializable nature of Hazelwood’s research netted her the first, T100 Alumni Mentoring Program sponsored FEST grant. T100 is an organization of alumni business experts who advise faculty inventors as they work toward commercialization. “We recognize that FEST is a crucial tool that supports the pipeline of future entrepreneurs,” states George McCabe, founder of T100. “We could not be more excited about sponsoring this award.”

The FEST Distinguished Young Investigator Grant program is administered through the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies and aims to reward faculty in their first three years at U.Va. with funding for their pioneering research proposals.

Mary Lou Soffa, chair of the Department of Computer Science will serve as Hazelwood’s mentor on the FEST project. “Even so early in her career, Kim has done creative, extensive and groundbreaking work in developing techniques to integrate hardware and software,” says Soffa. “I, as well as other researchers in the field, look forward to her future research results.”

Written by Melissa Maki, research communications coordinator for the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies.