Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

Research Barriers Fall as Universities Open the Technology Floodgates

on October 29, 2013
Universities are breaking down barriers for researchers who need to collaborate as they solve major science problems. Shutterstock.com

University researchers could solve science problems faster with advanced collaboration technology.

Instead of analyzing large medical data sets by themselves, researchers will soon be able to collaborate worldwide through a 100 gigabit Ethernet network, a different security pathway and software that controls the research technology infrastructure. To make this technology a reality, the University of Missouri and The Ohio State University are working on a two-year project with Internet2 that is funded in part by nearly $2 million in grants from the National Science Foundation.

The two universities are halfway through the project, and they're in good shape to have it finished by December 2014. The Ohio State University already has a 100 gigabit Ethernet network, while the University of Missouri is putting a network in this fall. The Ethernet network is about 100 times faster than the Google Fiber network in the Kansas City area, according to Internet2. That means researchers will be able to transfer large data sets quickly to their colleagues in fields of study including brain imaging, genomics and high-energy physics.

"What this does is this allows the best and brightest professors across the country and throughout the world to collaborate on projects so that we are actually able to solve some real problems," said Paul Schopis, chief technology officer of the Ohio Academic Resources Network, a division of the Ohio Board of Regents Ohio Technology Consortium that provides technology solutions to education, health care, public broadcasting and government in the state.

But while a faster network may help researchers collaborate, it's not the only piece of the puzzle that has to be solved. Firewalls have been slowing down data transfer between universities, and these two universities are addressing this problem by bringing a Science DMZ on campus.

The Science DMZ is a separate Internet network that is specifically designed for advanced research and computing in the sciences. Instead of going through a firewall to transfer and access data sets, researchers can log into the network with their federated identity. Federated identity allows universities to give researchers access to different tools and data through their home campus' log-in credentials.

"We're making an enormous jump in our ability for people to be able to do their work and not be impeded by all sorts of artificial barriers," said Gordon Springer, associate professor of computer science at the University of Missouri.

The University of Missouri has already built a Science DMZ for its campus, and The Ohio State University staff members are working on bringing it to their campus. Now the next step is building software that controls how data moves through the Science DMZ and across the Ethernet network.

Four graduate students are currently developing software to make data transfer faster and more direct than the current process, said Prasad Calyam, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Missouri. Instead of calling an engineer, researchers could use the software program to connect with the network and transfer data sets.

Schopis said, "What I want to be able to see is that a genomics researcher at Ohio State can collaborate with a genomics researcher at University of Missouri — or for that matter any other university that's building other similar kinds of systems — and for them to get their work done is no more difficult than you and me calling each other on the phone."


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Tanya Roscorla

Tanya Roscorla covers education technology in the classroom, behind the scenes and on the legislative agenda. Likes: Experimenting in the kitchen, cooking up cool crafts, reading good books.

E-mail: troscorla@centerdigitaled.com
Twitter: twitter.com/reportertanya
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