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A science gateway for all

Speed read
  • NSF unleashes the Science Gateways Community Institute (SGCI).
  • Led by scientists from across the US, the SGCI aims to coordinate gateway development.
  • SGCI consists of five partitions to manage all aspects of gateway creation and use.

Science today is born digital. So says Marlon Pierce, recent co-recipient of a US National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that will allow science gateway developers to cooperate more freely and build the gateways to power the next phase of scientific discovery.

Science gateways are web-based interfaces where researchers can connect with scientific instruments, sensor stream data, and the tools to make research using advanced computing more efficient and accessible.

These gateways can enable citizen science, and can also be a conduit for course materials on computational science in many domains. They have been on the scene for some time now, but without centralization, redundancy and inefficiency can creep in.

<strong>Gateway guru. </strong> SGCI was launched as part of NSF’s Software Infrastructure for Sustained Innovation (SI2) program. Nancy Wilkins-Diehr and a team of six other scientists will spur the creation of a nationally-coordinated gateway development resource. Courtesy Nancy Wilkins-Diehr.

The NSF, recognizing the popularity of science gateways, gave the green light (and $15 million) to principal investigator Nancy Wilkins-Diehr, associate director of the San Diego Computing Center (SDSC), to build the Science Gateways Community Institute (SGCI).

“We envision SGCI as really a community hub for gateway developers where they can keep up to date on the state of the practice through access to gateway-related publications, case studies, blog posts, training materials, events, and much more,”says Wilkins-Diehr.

“SGCI will also facilitate connections with gateway developers across federal agencies and internationally and will continue an annual special issue journal with colleagues in Europe and Australia.”

There will be five overlapping sections in the SGCI architecture, with a lot to offer to scientists and gateway developers. In the Incubator module, for instance, researchers can get an expert on loan. Need a cybersecurity wizard? How about a sharp software engineer or someone with usability or graphic design expertise? Whatever the need, the SGCI Incubator module adapts the sharing economy to the scientific workspace.

Science Gateways Community Institute

  • Incubator — sharing expertise in business and sustainability planning, cybersecurity, user interface design, and software engineering practices.
  • Extended Developer Support — providing expert developers for up to one year for projects with the most significant potential for research communities.
  • Scientific Software Collaborative — overseeing a component-based, open-source, extensible framework for all gateway design, integration, and services.
  • Community Engagement and Exchange — a forum for communication and sharing experiences among gateway developers.
  • Workforce Development — training programs to increase the pipeline of gateway developers with special emphasis on recruiting underrepresented people.

Another component of SGCI is the Extended Developer Support (EDS) module, led by Marlon Pierce of Indiana University. EDS will provide a year’s worth of development expertise to research projects with the greatest research potential.

“There is no one best way to build a gateway, but the answer is also not unbounded,” notes Pierce. “We want to encourage developers to choose, use, and contribute to an existing open source solution rather than create yet another new gateway framework.”

If all goes as the NSF expects, the SGCI will invigorate scientific collaboration across the nation and across all scientific domains. Pierce looks for a spike in publications resulting from the use of science gateways as the metric of success, something not tracked a present.

In the 21st century, science is born digital. “Computers have become essential scientific instruments,” observes Pierce. “In a wide range of fields, it is necessary to harness large scale computing to do simulations and analyze data.”

The SGCI is another step toward broadening participation in the scientific method of today. The SGCI will shepherd the creation of additional gateways, making them easier to harness for scientists and engineers yet to step on the trail.

So is your institution ready to take the next step and join up with the SGCI? Applications for gateway services are now being accepted. 

Nancy Wilkins-Diehr is partnering with Michael Zentner of Purdue University, Marlon Pierce of Indiana University, Katherine A. Lawrence of the University of Michigan, Sandra Gesing of the University of Notre Dame, Maytal Dahan from the Texas Advanced Computing Center, and Linda B. Hayden of Elizabeth City State University.

To keep up to date on SGCI activities, sign up for their newsletter.

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