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 Tuesday, December 11, 2007 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Institute Spotlight: Institute of Cognitive Science
By Corey H. Jones, junior, School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Encompassing a strong source of vitality, the institutes at CU-Boulder foster highly specialized environments while creating exclusive and exciting educational experiences for faculty and students. In this series, we survey these integral units that seek to support a wide range of research endeavors and address important, real-world concerns. Part three of this series features the Institute of Cognitive Science.

The Institute of Cognitive Science (ICS) administers interdisciplinary research that develops both theories and applications geared with real-world implications in mind. Founded in 1968 as the Institute for the Study of Intellectual Behavior, the institute adopted its current name in 1980.

"Cognitive science is the science of the mind," Director Marie Banich said. "By taking theory into practice, we use our sense of knowledge to determine how a system thinks … which guides the institute in building an application."

While the theoretical research component explores a wide range of cognitive abilities including memory and attention, the applied research element examines technologies and creates educational software as well as other instructional media.

"Not every project in the institute has an application or product, but ICS does have a long history of taking theory into practice by linking research to an important issue," Banich said.

For example, natural language processing and computational linguistics have attracted significant attention at ICS. One challenge, according to Banich, is developing a computer system that can decipher and understand different linguistic contexts when analyzing text or spoken language. This will enable the system to more accurately determine communicative meaning. The research has led to the institute's involvement in a number of applications, including online search engines, interactive educational systems, and homeland security communications and archive search systems.

Banich also helps research the nature of decision-making and risk-evaluation abilities in adolescents. These theories may provide developmental data to influence policy decisions within the domain of juvenile justice, she said.

 "We are interested in ultimately solving a real-world problem that does require parts and pieces from many disciplines," Associate Director Donna Caccamise said.

ICS recently established three main themes in order to promote the institute's unique strengths and its interdisciplinary nature: training and education, language processing and higher level cognition, which can offer understanding of psychiatric and neurological disorders.

"There has been talk in the last decade about the rigid lines that have been drawn regarding the different sciences," Caccamise said. "Those walls are coming down as we realize that the solutions to problems are probably at some nexus between many of those disciplines."

As a result, ICS, along with other CU institutes, is positioned to address this change by adopting a "team approach" to problem solving, Banich added.

Researchers from seven different academic units contribute to ICS, and the institute still endeavors to connect with other units on campus that share similar interests. ICS also manages three research centers and three laboratories.

The institute created CU's first joint PhD program, which teams with the participating academic units, and the institute also sponsors both a graduate certificate and undergraduate certificate program.

"The fact that we can do cutting-edge research means that we can offer better learning experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students," Caccamise said. "We want to take advantage of new thoughts and ideas that lead to innovation by offering a flexible training program."

Researchers have also ventured beyond the campus to present information regarding the implications of their work to groups and organizations across the country, including the Brain Injury Association of Colorado and the International Reading Association.

"A lot of the theoretical issues that ICS faces are important in terms of keeping our country at the forefront of developing novel, interesting and creative solutions to many problems," Banich said.

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