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Nvidia's $70 million Florida supercomputer hobbled by DeSantis law

Michael Smith, Bloomberg News on

Published in Science & Technology News

Foreign Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows have long been crucial to academic research in the US. UF says its professors recruited more than 1,000 graduate students every fall from China, Iran, Venezuela and four other countries covered by Florida’s law prior to its passage. This year, it’s closer to zero, faculty leaders say.

“The day-to-day research work is actually done by grad students, not done by the faculty members,” said Jiangeng Xue, a professor of materials science and engineering at UF. “If we don’t have a pipeline of good, high-quality Ph.D. students, we cannot do all the work that we want to do.”

Chenglong Li, a UF professor of medicinal chemistry, said he needed one researcher for fall 2024 to help with his work using AI to identify drug molecules that bind to proteins to treat certain cancers. By late last year, he’d found a candidate from Shanghai, but then Florida’s Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, issued guidance on DeSantis’ law that made it all but impossible to offer a stipend.

In response to the law, the Board of Governors must approve each researcher who professors want to recruit from China and the other countries of concern, through an eight-step process culminating in a board meeting, spokeswoman Cassandra Edwards said in an email. So far, the board hasn’t received any requests, she said.

In 2020, UF committed to make AI integral to every student’s education by 2030 and has since hired 110 AI-specialized professors. The effort has contributed to the university’s growing prestige; US News & World Report ranks it sixth among state schools, up from 19th in 2012.

 

In late January, Wright joined faculty leaders from across the state in Tallahassee for lunch with members of the Board of Governors. The professors explained how the law blocked them from recruiting the best research talent, threatening Florida’s progress in AI, said Wright.

Amanda Phalin, a UF management professor and member of the 17-member panel who attended that meeting, said she isn't aware of any planned changes to address the concerns.

(With assistance from Laura Dhillon Kane, Janet Lorin, Debby Wu and Sarah Zheng.)


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