Professor Emeritus
Computer Science

2027 Kelley Engineering Center
Corvallis, OR 97331-5501
(541) 737-2109
(541) 737-3014


Cherri M. Pancake is Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science and Intel Faculty Fellow at Oregon State University. In her first career, she conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Guatemalan Indian communities, where she applied cross-cultural survey and interviewing techniques to study social change. Since receiving a PhD in Computer Engineering, she has applied her ethnographic training to usability engineering, specifically the problem of how complex software can better support the conceptual models and computing strategies of practicing scientists and engineers.

Dr. Pancake was among the first worldwide to apply ethnographic techniques to identify software usability problems — an approach which is now mainstream — and she conducted much of the seminal work identifying how the needs of scientists differ from computer science and business communities. Over the past 15 years, she has served as PI or coPI on research grants totaling over $125 million, from diverse sources including industry, the National Science Foundation, and the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, and Interior. She is Director of the Northwest Alliance for Computational Science and Engineering (NACSE), an interdisciplinary research center often cited as the national leader in usability for science and engineering applications. The methods she developed for applying user-centered design to improve user interfaces are reflected in software products from Hewlett Packard, Convex, Intel, IBM, and Tektronix.

Most recently, Dr. Pancake has focused on how “virtual collaborations” — interactions that may span large, interdisciplinary, and physically distributed communities — differ from situations where colleagues have the opportunity to meet and work together physically. She develops processes and software tools to make remote collaboration fit naturally into the normal patterns of scientific research and practice. The virtual communities she has worked with include the Protein Databank, the Collaborative Large-scale Engineering Analysis Network for Environmental Research (CLEANER), the Long-Term Ecological Research Network (LTERnet), the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII), and the European Union's E-Science Human Factors Task Force.

Dr. Pancake’s leadership has been instrumental in the creation of organizations — such as the Parallel Tools Consortium and the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) — that unite researchers, educators, and industry practitioners to expedite the rollover of research advances into education and practice. As leader of national standards groups, she developed procedures for consensus-driven design that similarly expedited the adoption of community standards. Her broad familiarity with most scientific, engineering, and social science disciplines is reflected in her advisory roles for industry, universities, national laboratories, professional organizations, and national funding agencies. In 2003, Dr. Pancake was appointed as Special Expert on Cyberinfrastructure to the National Science Foundation. She is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Research Interests

Research Interests
Remote Access to Large-scale Scientific Databases, Usability Requirements in High Performance Computing, System Software and Tools for High-Performance Computers, User Interface Design, and Interactive Web Technology.

Research Description
My research focus is usability engineering, or the study of how we can engineer software to be more usable. The particular target audience I focus on is practicing scientists and engineers.

For ten years, I applied usability engineering techniques to software tools for high-performance computing (HPC). During this time, I worked with IBM, Intel, HP, and other HPC companies to improve their graphical tools so that technical programmers could be more effective in developing large parallel applications. I have also been active in developing national and international standards for HPC software, helping to found such groups as the Parallel Tools Consortium and the High Performance Debugging Forum.

More recently, I have focused on the special problems scientists and engineers have when they access very large databases across the Internet. My research group has pioneered the use of multi-level Web-to-database interfaces, which make it possible to customize access to meet the needs of very different user groups (e.g., middle school children versus professional scientists). We have also developed software infrastructure that allows scientists to construct their own Web interfaces without needed to learn specialized computer science skills.

I currently serve as chair of the Parallel Tools Consortium and Director of the Northwest Alliance for Computational Science and Engineering (NACSE).

Application of Research
Remote monitoring systems, distributed groupware applications simulation programs.