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NSF Awards $15 Million to Create Science Gateways Community Institute

Published on July 29, 2016 by Faith Singer-Villalobos

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a collaborative team led by researchers at six different institutions a $15 million, five-year grant to establish a Science Gateways Community Institute (SGCI) to accelerate the development and application of highly functional, sustainable science gateways that address the needs of researchers across the full spectrum of NSF directorates.

The institute is a partnership led by the San Diego Supercomputer Center, in collaboration with the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin; Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina; Indiana University; University of Notre Dame; Purdue University; and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

As the lead partner for the Scientific Software Collaborative, TACC will receive almost $3 million to oversee a component-based, open-source, extensible framework for gateway design, integration, and services, including gateway hosting and capabilities for external developers to integrate their own software into Institute offerings. TACC will also be participating in other aspects of the project including Community Engagement and Extended Developer Support.

Maytal Dahan, Co-Principal Investigator (PI) for the Science Gateways Community Institute, Portal & Gateway Infrastructure Manager at TACC; leads the User Information and Online Interfaces area of XSEDE
"Science Gateways make use of familiar web-based interfaces to make it easier to employ advanced computing resources for science and engineering. TACC is excited to be part of the first Institute that empowers gateway developers to more quickly and effectively build powerful web gateways for innovation and discovery," said Maytal Dahan, co-principal investigator (PI) for the Science Gateways Community Institute, Portal & Gateway Infrastructure Manager at TACC, and who leads the User Information and Online Interfaces area of XSEDE. "The goal is to help researchers focus on the science they want to accomplish, and not the technologies they need to get there."

The Institute's goal is to increase the number, ease of use, and effective application of gateways for the greater research and engineering community, resulting in broader gateway use and more widespread engagement in science by professionals, citizen scientists, students, and more. The project will officially get underway starting this summer.

A science gateway is a community-developed set of tools, applications, and data services and collections that are integrated through a web-based portal or suite of applications. Such gateways provide scientists access to many of the tools used in cutting-edge research – telescopes, seismic shake tables, supercomputers, sky surveys, undersea sensors, and more – and connect often diverse resources in easily accessible ways that save researchers and institutions time and money.

"Gateways foster collaborations and the exchange of ideas among researchers and can democratize access, providing broad access to resources sometimes unavailable to those who are not at leading research institutions." said Nancy Wilkins-Diehr, SDSC associate director and PI for the entire project.

TACC already participates in the development of a wide variety of Science Gateways such as DesignSafe, a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to build a software platform, data repository, and tools that will help the U.S. design more resilient buildings, levees and other public infrastructure that could protect lives, property and communities. The goal of the institute is to enable new and existing Gateway projects such as DesignSafe to get the resources, services and support they need to be successful.

"Science Gateways make use of familiar web-based interfaces to make it easier to employ advanced computing resources for science and engineering. TACC is excited to be part of the first Institute that empowers gateway developers to more quickly and effectively build powerful web gateways for innovation and discovery."
Maytal Dahan, TACC and XSEDE
Wilkins-Diehr also is co-PI of the NSF-funded eXtreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) program, one of the most advanced collections of integrated digital resources and services in the world. In her role with XSEDE, Dahan is excited to leverage her management and software engineering expertise to the Science Gateways Institute.

"In XSEDE, we have observed tremendous growth in terms of the number of gateway users, the number of processing hours used on HPC resources and the number of published research papers using gateways in the last couple of years," said Wilkins-Diehr. "We see the services offered by SGCI dovetailing nicely with those offered by XSEDE. In the XSEDE Extended Collaborative Support (ECSS) program, our primary focus is supporting developers of existing gateways with their back-end connections to XSEDE resources. SGCI frees us up to offer services developing front ends – both for projects that use supercomputers and those that do not."

Multiple Partnerships, Multiple Components

In early 2015, the NSF identified science gateways as one of two focus areas for the implementation phase of its Software Institute program. Through a $500,000 award, a team led by Wilkins-Diehr developed a strategic plan for a much larger Science Gateways Institute as part of that Software Institute program's conceptualization phase.

The Institute's five-component design is the result of several years of studies, including many focus groups and a 5,000-person survey of the research community, including NSF principal investigators, campus CIOs and CTOs, and others. Those component areas include:

  • An Incubator, to provide shared expertise in business and sustainability planning, cybersecurity, user interface design, and software engineering practices. This area will be led by Michael Zentner (Purdue University).
  • Extended Developer Support, to provide expert developers for up to one year to projects that request assistance and demonstrate the potential to achieve the most significant impacts on their research communities. Led by Marlon E. Pierce (Indiana University).
  • The Scientific Software Collaborative, to oversee a component-based, open-source, extensible framework for gateway design, integration, and services, including gateway hosting and capabilities for external developers to integrate their own software into Institute offerings. Led by Maytal Dahan (TACC).
  • Community Engagement and Exchange will provide a forum for communication and sharing experiences among gateway developers – within the NSF, across federal agencies, and internationally. Led by Katherine A. Lawrence (University of Michigan) with support from Sandra Gesing (University of Notre Dame).
  • Workforce Development will increase the pipeline of gateway developers with training programs, including special emphasis on recruiting underrepresented minorities, and by helping universities form gateway support groups. Led by Linda B. Hayden (Elizabeth City State University).


The work is funded via NSF award number is ACI-1547611 and more information about SGCI is available here.

Media Contacts:
Jan Zverina, SDSC Communications, jzverina@sdsc.edu
Faith Singer-Villalobos, TACC, faith@tacc.utexas.edu

Related Links:
XSEDE: www.xsede.org/
TACC: www.tacc.utexas.edu
San Diego Supercomputer Center: http://www.sdsc.edu
NSF Press Release: NSF commits $35 million to improve scientific software


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