Purdue News

August 18, 2005

New Purdue cyberinfrastructure center to speed innovation

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue will announce today (Thursday, Aug. 18) the formation of a new cyberinfrastructure center to unite computer resources at all of its campuses, enhancing research and education, setting the stage for more federal funding and ultimately boosting Indiana's economy.

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"Thanks to Lilly Endowment support, the Cyber Center will place the university at a competitive advantage by accelerating discovery, which will lead to new avenues of research," said Purdue President Martin C. Jischke.

Jischke will announce the center during an 11:30 a.m. meeting of the Westfield-Washington Chamber of Commerce in Westfield, Ind.

The center is being funded for the first three years with a portion of a $10 million Lilly Endowment grant, which also is being used to create three other new centers focusing on the environment, and cancer and energy research. All centers are based at Discovery Park, the university's hub for interdisciplinary research.

Cyberinfrastructure encompasses many elements, including an information technology network made up of powerful computers, software, facilities and large repositories of information, as well as the people and services needed to make the system work.

"Purdue will combine its diverse and rich research environment with a central information technology system," said Ahmed Elmagarmid, a professor of computer science who is the center's director. "The center will give us an edge when competing for funding because normally you only find this type of resource at national laboratories.

"It's like the Internet on steroids."

A recommendation to create the center was made by a cyberinfrastructure advisory committee that included James Bottum, vice president of Information Technology at Purdue; Charles O. Rutledge, Purdue's vice president for research; Jeffrey S. Vitter, the Frederick L. Hovde Dean of the College of Science; and Linda Katehi, the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering.

"The center will help the state retain and attract highly skilled workers, and it will hasten technical innovation," Bottum said. "New enterprises based on these innovations could spin off startup companies and successful products, holding the promise of driving Indiana's future economy."

One of the center's roles will be to develop scientific gateways, or portals, such as the "nanoHUB," a system developed at Purdue that currently enables about 5,000 researchers from around the world to explore nanotechnology for research and education. The nanoHUB is a computer grid that delivers advanced nanotechnology simulations to users ranging from high school students to professional scientists and engineers. The system is operated as part of the Network for Computational Nanotechnology, based at Discovery Park and funded by the National Science Foundation.

A critical part of cyberinfrastructure is "middleware," or software that allows users to access and run complex simulations and databases using standard Web browsers, eliminating the need to download specialized software to their own computers. The middleware manages interactions among various resources, data and users that are distributed on different computers, sometimes across the nation. The middleware software hides the underlying complexity needed to enable all of the resources to communicate with each other, making it easy to access and use resources such as those in the nanoHub.

Sangtae Kim, the Donald W. Feddersen Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Chemical Engineering at Purdue, said the cyberinfrastructure center ultimately will boost Indiana's economy by helping to increase the competitiveness of companies in the state.

"Our vision is that world-class cyberinfrastructure is the foundation for rapid growth in 21st century economies," said Kim, an expert on cyberinfrastructure whose research includes work to improve radio frequency identification tags, known as RFID. "This new initiative can be viewed as a bold and visionary experiment on the driving role of cyberinfrastructure, with Purdue as the laboratory, the state of Indiana as the pilot plant and the national economy as the full-scale system."

Vitter said the cyberinfrastructure center will help Purdue scientists and engineers use complex simulations, such as advanced climate models that could benefit Indiana agriculture. Researchers also will use the system to access advanced weather radar data and agriculture-related sensor networks, information ultimately aimed at saving lives, protecting property and improving crop yields.

Better climate models will enable scientists to more accurately predict rising temperatures and other consequences of global warming, possibly allowing Indiana agriculture to adapt to – and even benefit from – the effects of climate change by tailoring the management of crops and livestock to suit climatic conditions.

"For instance, soybean crops will be sensitive to large-scale climate changes, and the viability of genetically modified crops with minimal herbicide and pesticide use depends on an understanding of environmental changes," Vitter said. "Livestock and crops may be impacted by pathogens that thrive in more humid air resulting from changing climate.

"The center will build on current strengths at Purdue and will include the coordination of many centers and initiatives under a single umbrella. While Purdue has great capabilities in many areas, the center will now provide the strategic focus and organizational structure needed to unify all the components. Such a coordinated approach will provide a virtual bridge built from information technology to all the colleges and schools on campus – linking the developers of technology, the users of technology and those who study how technology and society interact."

Katehi said the center will benefit basic research and bolster interdisciplinary collaborations, increasing the likelihood of innovations that spawn new businesses.

For example, Katehi said, the center will support work in sensors and wireless sensor networks, which will be used for a variety of research areas, including homeland security, environmental monitoring, industrial process control, health care and military applications. The research will bring together faculty members who work in various areas related to sensors and sensor networks, including projects in the Purdue Climate Change Research Center, the Center for Sensing Science and Technology, and the Center for Wireless Systems and Applications.

Collaborations in sensor research may result in work to develop smaller, more powerful sensors, a new generation of radio frequency identification tags, wireless communications systems and devices that detect and characterize food-borne contamination, hazardous substances in the environment and chemical or biological warfare agents.

"Through the center, we will develop a system linking massive Purdue computing and data resources, as well as equipment vital to research and education in areas ranging from agriculture to information technology, electrical engineering to earth and atmospheric sciences," Rutledge said.

The new center will further strengthen Purdue's role in the TeraGrid, an expanding high-speed optical fiber network that enables researchers to access a wealth of resources, remotely use the best supercomputers and high-tech facilities nationwide for their experiments, as well as interact with fellow researchers at other institutions in real time.

Other existing Purdue facilities that will become key components of the cyberinfrastructure center include the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security, the Computing Research Institute, the Purdue Homeland Security Institute, and the Indiana Center for Database Systems.

"We view cyberinfrastructure to be end-to-end and include the organization, information and knowledge resources of an enterprise, along with the needed software, applications, database management systems, networks, hardware and storage," Elmagarmid said. "Our approach includes considerations about how the infrastructure is to be managed and virtualized. The virtualization of the information-technology resources is essential because modern-day infrastructure is dynamic, adaptive, shared and on demand."

Bottum said cyberinfrastructure is especially critical because of the changing face of research.

"The cyberinfrastructure center will take advantage of two important developments: the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of research and the use of information technology for the discovery process," Bottum said. "Whole disciplines and research methods are changing because powerful information technology tools are being applied to the discovery process."

The center will support "knowledge environments" for research and teaching. For example, a system being developed in a project led by chemical engineers aims at letting researchers test theories using a large three-dimensional, computerized display. The method could be crucial for enabling scientists to deal with the recent explosion of data now available to them from "high-throughput" experimentation, in which hundreds or thousands of experiments are conducted simultaneously. The 3-D environment promises to help researchers more easily find what they are looking for within this huge sea of data.

"Many of the pieces for the cyberinfrastructure center already exist at Purdue, and it is partly a matter now of bringing them together. But there are also many missing pieces of the puzzle, and we have to create them," Elmagarmid said. "These pieces include hardware, software, services, personnel and organizations to support the services, all of which will take several years to put into place.

"Once we develop this infrastructure, which will cost tens of millions of dollars, we will use it not only to enhance research opportunities but also the educational experience for students. We will be offering courses in infrastructure development, infrastructure management, infrastructure security and middleware."

Discovery Park, under construction on State Street on the west edge of campus, has attracted more than $109 million in sponsored research, $100 million in contributions for buildings and now involves about 850 faculty as members. The park has been a critical factor in forming eight startup companies and at least 40 patent filings.

The park currently includes five buildings encompassing several other centers: Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, the Birck Nanotechnology Center, the Bindley Bioscience Center, the e-Enterprise Center, the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and the Discovery Learning Center. Included in e-Enterprise Center are the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering and the Purdue Homeland Security Institute. The new centers will be based administratively at the park.

Lilly Endowment has awarded Purdue more than $51 million in support of Discovery Park.

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

Sources: Martin Jischke, (765) 494-9708, mcjischke@purdue.edu

Charles O. Rutledge, (765) 494-7766, chipr@purdue.edu

James R. Bottum, (765) 496-2266, jb@purdue.edu

Jeffrey S. Vitter, (765) 494-1764, jsv@purdue.edu

Linda Katehi, (765) 494-5346, katehi@purdue.edu

Ahmed Elmagarmid, (765) 494-1998, ake@cs.purdue.edu

Sangtae Kim, (765) 292-5692, kim55@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


Note to Journalists: Video B-roll also is available by contacting Jesica Webb, jwebb@purdue.edu, (765) 494-2079, (765) 426-1071 (cell).


Technical software specialist John R. Jackson peers through a window at the opposite end of a new robotic-tape library in Purdue's machine room containing the university's supercomputer and several high-performance computer "clusters" operated by Information Technology at Purdue's Rosen Center for Advanced Computing. The robotic drive selects appropriate tapes when users request data. A new cyberinfrastructure center at Purdue will use the computers, along with other hardware, software and facilities, to enhance research and education and set the stage for more federal funding. The center, based at the university's Discovery Park, is being funded for the first three years with a portion of a $10 million Lilly Endowment grant. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at https://www.purdue.edu/uns/images/+2005/discovery-cyber.jpg


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