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From the early days of grid computing to the era of 'big science'

Science Grid This Week launched on 28 April, 2005. Image (without text) courtesy Gerd Altmann, Pixabay (CC0 public domain).

On 14 March, 2005, I arrived for my first day of work in the office of communication at the US Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, also known as Fermilab, and was charged with a unique and unusual task: working on behalf of the entire US research community to raise the public profile of a new concept called grid computing, starting with a weekly e-newsletter.

Little did I know how far that little newsletter would go — and how far it would take me.

Fermilab's role, and the roles of the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the US National Science Foundation (NSF), in sponsoring the new publication made sense. The development of grid computing was being driven by the data-sharing and data-analysis needs of the large international particle physics collaborations. As the US particle physics laboratory and the agencies funding particle physics and computer science research, Fermilab, DOE, and NSF wanted to get the word out — not only to the public, but also to the many scientists whose research could be advanced through grid computing technologies.

Katie Yurkewicz is now the communication director at Fermilab. Image courtesy Reidar Hahn, Fermilab.

It sounded simple at first: launch a weekly email newsletter to communicate the scientific achievements made possible by grid computing. Starting a new publication from scratch, however, is never easy — particularly when the topic is a relatively new field (whose spelling hadn't even been agreed upon), its global community of researchers was still forming, and advancements were being made at an incredibly rapid pace.

But after a crash course in distributed computing technologies, many, many hours on the phone interviewing scientists and IT professionals, and weeks of web-crawling searching for statistics, graphics, and calendar items, the straightforwardly named Science Grid This Week launched on 28 April, 2005.

Over the next year, SGTW grew to more than 1,000 subscribers and took its newbie editor across the country and around the world, to visit computing centers at laboratories and universities, and to attend conferences to discover the many ways that grid computing was helping usher in the era of 'big science'.

It also attracted the attention of the European grid computing community centered at CERN, who proposed joining forces on an international publication. The creatively named International Science Grid This Week launched in November 2006 with a new global perspective and a new title for me: editor-in-chief.

Over the past 10 years and five editors-in-chief, iSGTW has transformed from its humble beginnings — a staff of one inexperienced science writer — to a truly international publication with staff on two continents covering an astonishingly wide range of scientific research enabled by both distributed computing and high-performance computing.

I can't wait to see where the next 10 years takes us.

Read more: A decade of iSGTW!

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