Computational Research Center
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ND Science Grid

Organizing Institutions and Persons

Aaron Bergstrom
UND/NDUS HPC Specialist
University of North Dakota
Computational Research Center
Kim Owen
Advanced Applications Coordinator
North Dakota State University
Office of the VP for Information Technology
Travis Desell
Assistant Professor
University of North Dakota
Department of Computer Science
Susan Felege
Assistant Professor
University of North Dakota
Department of Biology
Christopher Felege
Instructor
University of North Dakota
Department of Biology
Department of Teaching & Learning - Graduate Student

Affiliated Entities: UND Computer Science, ND EPSCoR, & EDUTech

Purpose and Need

Scientific Computing, in the form of computer modeling and simulation, is a fundamental component of scientific discovery in the 21st Century no matter the science being studied. Yet, most students only receive training in these areas late in their academic careers. This lack of training leaves North Dakota students without the necessary skillsets to compete with their peers for high-value career opportunities.

ND Science Grid (NDSG): The NDSG is a Student Engagement and Workforce Development project aimed at educating North Dakota's K-12 decision-makers and students on the impact that a scientific computing education will have on each student's ability to achieve success in his or her chosen career field.

STEM and Beyond: While the connection of scientific computing to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers will seem obvious to most, what is often not apparent is that this knowledge has become heavily utilized within the Humanities disciplines as well. For instance, the study of languages and language preservation now often involves 3D simulation or computationally intensive data analysis, which requires the use of supercomputing resources. Since such skills are such highly sought after, it is not uncommon for a professional in the Humanities, with training in scientific computing, to transition to a STEM career path later in life.

Educational Tools

A major goal of this project is to bring scientific computing into the K-12 classroom as a demonstration of how computing and scientific discovery are increasingly bound together. Unfortunately, not every school has access to a Supercomputer. To remedy this, NDSG proposes to use Volunteer Computing.

Volunteer Computing (VC) : What is volunteer computing? To paraphrase the Berkeley BOINC project - VC is an arrangement in which people (volunteers) provide computing resources (their own personal computers) to research projects, which use the volunteered computing resources to gain scientific knowledge through the process of scientific discovery. Access to these volunteered computing resources is provided to the research project over the volunteer's private internet connection.

Return-On-Investment (ROI): Not every research project that has computational requirements can utilize the VC environment. Some research projects need very large dedicated Supercomputers. However, many skills, principles, and technologies that comprise scientific computing within the VC ecosystem translate well to supercomputing systems. As such, the NDSG team feels that VC is a reliable, low-cost method for providing a high-value educational asset to the K-12 students of North Dakota. VC provides a sizable ROI.

UND Computer Science VC Infrastructure (VCI): The NDSG team will utilize the VCI maintained by the Computer Science department at University of North Dakota to support student engagement and workforce development programs. The VCI consists of server and database resources which utilize the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) volunteer computing framework and middleware [ BOINC - Wikipedia ].

Working with UND Computer Science and EDUTech, the NDSG team will initially make the UND VCI available to all ND K-12 schools, NDUS Institutions, and ND Tribal Colleges who choose to participate in NDSG programs. NDSG programs will also accept participation from other regional institutions, school systems, and adjacent EPSCoR jurisdictions.

More about the UND VC projects can be found at the following link: [ http://volunteer.cs.und.edu ].

Proposals for ND Science Grid Programs

  1. Research Collaboration and Student Engagement for K-12* (Program 1): In this program, NDSG would provide a summer professional development course to instructors who teach at participating K-12 schools. Course materials would include a scientific computing curriculum packet that could be used in the classroom to support the state curriculum on a specific topic related to an on-going NDSG volunteer computing project.
    *This program is currently in the Unfunded Planning Stage.

    • Example - Wildlife@Home:  This project is an active research program that uses miniature surveillance cameras to continuously record nesting bird behaviors. This research project generates tens of thousands of hours of digital video (Terabytes of video files) each summer. No one person can examine all of the video footage collected by this research project. As such, Wildlife@Home uses the UND VCI for both distributed computing and crowd sourcing. [ Learn more about Wildlife@Home ]

      As part of the summer professional development course, participating K-12 educators would receive a 1 or 2 day curriculum packet to be used in biology, ecology, or computer programming courses at their K-12 institutions. These curriculum packets would be used to educate students on the use of scientific computing for studying wildlife .

      Successful Volunteer Computing projects foster the growth of on-line communities that gather together to provide on-going support for the research project. These communities are comprised of the users who volunteer their computer resources, and serve to recruit other people to become project volunteers. Computing Competitions are often used for this purpose. Project volunteers form teams. The team that processes the most data within a certain time frame wins bragging rights.

      As part of this program, participating schools would be expected to form their own team to compete against other participating schools in categories such as "Most Videos Watched", "Most Events Discovered", or "Most Data Processed". Participating schools would also be expected to install the Wildlife@Home client on a limited number of school computers. These computers would process data for the project as part of competition when these computers are not being used for other activities. This software only runs in ScreenSaver mode. While the details still need to be worked out, the idea would be that students could recruit family members and friends to join their school's team. The competitions between school teams would run for a limited amount of time.

  2. Research Collaboration and Workforce Development for Higher Ed* (Program 2): In this program, NDSG would work with UND Computer Science to serve as infrastructure host for a Volunteer Computing project run by another institution. Research projects participating in this program would be eligible to partner with K-12 schools participating in Program 1.
    *This program is currently in the Unfunded Planning Stage.

    • Example - Ecology@Home**: A researcher at a tribal college may want to run a research project similar to Wildlife@Home. That researcher might find that funding for Ecology@Home is more easily obtained if the project need only secure funding for the purchase of in-field equipment (such as surveillance cameras) and student research assistants (including a student software programmer who attends the tribal college). While the project would be required to find this funding from a 3rd party funding agency, NDSG and UND Computer Science would provide the Volunteer Computing infrastructure fee-free (or through a joint proposal submission).

      NDSG would assist in the development of curriculum that could be used by K-12 institutions participating in Program 1. NDSG would also provide the Ecology@Home team with the training necessary to implement the Ecology@Home project using the UND VC infrastructure. Collaborating institutions would be expected to install the Ecology@Home client in as many institutional computer labs as feasibly possible. The Ecology@Home project team would be responsible for growing its own on-line community of volunteers, though the community infrastructure (such as message boards) would be maintained by NDSG through UND Computer Science, and NDSG would assist in the promotion of Ecology@Home where possible.
      **Ecology@Home is a fictional project used here only as an example of what is possible.

  3. NDSG Supercomputing Challenge* (Program 3): Building upon Program 1, the NDSG seeks to establish a competition for K-12 students similar in structure to the New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge (NMSC) .
    *This program is currently in the Unfunded Planning Stage.

    Features of the challenge are expected to be:
    • The Vision and Mission of the NDSG Supercomputing Challenge will be very similar to that of the NMSC Statements .
    • The NDSG will consult with the NMSC in the development of this program.
    • Students from k-12 institutions will form groups or teams of up to 6 students.
    • Teams will have mentors that can be either a teacher, a parent, or research expert.
    • Students would be encouraged to develop Volunteer Computing projects, but will have the option of using other technologies if available.
    • There will be an annual Kickoff Event in the Fall of each academic year, and a final Awards Event in the Spring of each academic year.
    • UND and NDSU will each host one of the events every year.
    • Like the NMSC , the NDSG SC will require Sponsors and Institutional Partners.