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NSF grant to enhance research capacity at IU Northwest, other regionals

Wood, Gupta instrumental in winning two-year grant that will upgrade computer technology, tie in to big data resources

Thursday Aug 25, 2016

As she pursues her research at Indiana University School of Medicine’s Northwest-Gary campus, Dipika Gupta, Ph.D., occasionally envisions a new way of looking at the data she collects in pursuit of a certain hypothesis.

“In the back of my mind, I say to myself, ‘you know, I don’t have the (computer) capacity to do that, so I won’t even venture down that path,’” she said.

Gupta explains that the work she does as Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology involves huge sets of data. She does things like sequences billions of bacteria and compares them against each other. This requires immense amounts of space, speed and capacity.

Thanks to a two-year, $450,468 grant that Indiana University recently secured from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Gupta and other researchers won’t have to imagine the work they could be doing for much longer.

The grant will enable IU Northwest, as well as the regional campuses of IU South Bend, IU Kokomo, IU East, IU Southeast and IUPUC to upgrade its internet connection from 1 gigabit per second to 10 gigabits per second by way of connecting to the I-Light network. I-Light is a high-performance research and education network managed by the IU Global Research Network Operations Center that connects member sites to state, national, and international research and education networks. For example, faculty and students would be able to access IU’s Big Red II supercomputer.

IU Northwest Executive Director of Information Technology and Director of Technical Services Carol Wood serves as principal investigator on the grant. Gupta serves as a co-investigator on the project and contributed the science perspective needed to secure the grant.

Wood said that low bandwidth significantly hampers big data research projects like Gupta’s at the regional campuses, especially when they try to connect to IU and national computing resources and collaborators at other universities and entities.

This filters down to undergraduate students who have plentiful opportunities for research under the mentorship of IU Northwest faculty but are held back by technology shortcomings, she said.

Zoran Kilibarda, Chair of the Department of Geosciences, is another prolific researcher on campus who will benefit from the upgrades. Kilibarda, who studies geological and weather phenomena of the Indiana Dunes, often exchanges data with colleagues at other universities. This can be cumbersome and time-consuming, sometimes taking half an hour to open a file that a colleague has sent him.

Gupta confirmed that slow loading capacity and limits on data sets sometimes have kept researchers “behind the curve.” The planned upgrades will solve these problems in addition to allowing researchers to integrate data in ways that weren’t possible before.

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