NSF Funds Position to Realize Potential of University’s Cyberinfrastructure
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Syracuse University $396,098 to fund a full-time campus cyberinfrastructure engineer (CIE) position for two years. The engineer will provide technical expertise and leadership to realize the potential of existing University cyberinfrastructure investments and to guide strategy for future investments for research and education. The position is expected to increase research computing output, including scholarly output and funded research.
“Campus cyberinfrastructure is essential to answering many of the most fundamental questions in science and engineering, and to train the next generation of students and researchers,” says Sam Scozzafava, interim chief information officer and vice president for information technology services. “The cyberinfrastructure engineer will foster growth in research computing at Syracuse University and serve as a liaison at the national level.”
The CIE will engage with a broad spectrum of campus researchers, allowing the University to respond to current needs and opportunities in advancing scientific discovery. The job includes working with researchers to better understand their needs and to recommend available computing resources. The CIE will be well-versed in research computing technologies, including high-throughput computing, high-performance computing, virtualization and operating systems. The person will have a thorough knowledge of available research computing resources available at Syracuse University and provide an aggregation point for identifying common research needs, problems and resources among the diverse Syracuse University research community. This aggregation is intended to build a sense of community across a diverse set of research computing efforts on campus, identify tools that might solve problems in multiple disciplines and assist with reducing duplicative research environments where multiple researchers would benefit from pooling resources.
Beyond campus, the CIE will interact with national research computing organizations to become familiar with available tools and resources, innovative approaches, and best practices. A sample list of research organizations the CIE is expected to interact with includes Open Science Grid, HTCondor and XSEDE. The CIE will evaluate the appropriate use of national resources for Syracuse University researchers.
The CIE will also represent Syracuse University on the national stage as a catalyst for growing a community of campus-level cyberinfrastructure engineering professionals.
“Not only will the cyberinfrastructure engineer maintain familiarity with University research computing resources, but one of their key tasks will be to communicate the availability and possible use of those resources to the campus research community,” says Eric Sedore, associate chief information officer for Infrastructure Services. “This person will help close the gap between researchers and available computing resources both on campus and nationally. They will strengthen the collaborative nature of research computing work at the University and beyond.”
“I am ecstatic about this award and the new position,” says M. Lisa Manning, associate professor of physics in the College of Arts and Sciences. A computational researcher in soft matter physics, Manning runs a lot of custom high-throughput and high-performance computer code on a local cluster at the University’s Green Data Center and on OrangeGrid. She works with wide-ranging applications from designing new structural materials such as bulk metallic glasses to understanding biological processes such as embryonic development and cancer metastasis.
“Although Syracuse has made important investments in research computing infrastructure, it has not always been easy to figure out how to get my software to run in this infrastructure,” says Manning. “More importantly, some of my colleagues and I could significantly increase our research output with suggestions on how to more efficiently use our computational resources. This new cyberinfrastructure engineer position will do just that—serve as a bridge between faculty, postdoctoral researchers and students to help us identify and make the most of existing resources. I think they will also help us think bigger about identifying new computational resources, and how to link our research in statistical physics to the broader explosion of research in big data. These types of positions have the potential to transform research at SU.”
Melissa Green, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, agrees. “My research group is one that takes advantage of computational resources, but we are not computational scientists. By having the resources that this grant will provide, we will be able to collaborate in house and find new solutions to increase the efficiency of the analysis required in our research. I have been fortunate to be awarded a couple of grants for particular experiments. The new position created by the NSF grant will help make that money go even further in terms of the amount of analysis we can do in the same period.”
The CIE will report to co-principal investigator Sedore, who has led the research computing efforts of Information Technology Services (ITS). A subcommittee of the Research Computing Advisory Council will ensure that the work of the CIE satisfies the needs of the University’s research and education community, and to provide guidance and feedback to Sedore and the CIE. Subcommittee members are principal investigator Scozzafava, and co-principal investigators Green, Manning and Duncan Brown, associate professor of physics. As outlined in the proposal submitted to NSF, after 18 months the subcommittee will review the outcomes and ongoing work to make a recommendation regarding continuing funding of the CIE position by Syracuse University.
“The collaboration that we have established between STEM faculty and ITS computing professionals will ensure that the campus cyberinfrastructure engineer will be successful in engaging and supporting Syracuse’s research community at all levels: undergraduates, graduate students, research staff and faculty,” says Brown. “We’ll all be able to do more science.”