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The gateway to the grid

Image of an iPhone with a digitized version of the 19th century work by Federico De Roberto.
INDICATE is using digitalizations of 19th century Mediterranean literature done by University of Catania's researchers and ancient Chinese artifacts by Chinese researchers. These works are now available on the web and even the iPhone. Image courtesy Antonio Calanducci.

The INDICATE project is helping bring back to life the decaying and dusty manuscripts of Federico De Roberto, the oldest of which dates back to the second half of the 19th century.

INDICATE (International Network for a Digital Cultural Heritage e-Infrastructure) is an European Union FP7 project which aims to establish a Mediterranean network of common interest made up of experts and researchers in the field of e-infrastructures and digital cultural heritage. The COMETA Consortium is developing an e-Culture Science Gateway which will provide experts in the field with an easy-to-use web interface to access several cultural heritage repositories, such as 19th century Mediterranean literature or ancient Chinese artifacts.

Antonio Calanducci, from the University of Catania, who is also leading the development of the e-Culture Science Gateway, believes e-infrastructures, such as grids, are becoming ever more versatile. He said, "e‐infrastructures can save and store huge amounts of data in a secure and reliable way. Redundancy of data, obtained through the distributed replication - of digitizations in our case - provide fault tolerance [having multiple backups], high scalability, hiding network latencies, [reducing slow processor response time] with the final goal of offering long term digital preservation to valuable cultural heritage."

The project manages three main repositories, one of which is the Federico De Roberto Digital Repository, an archive of an influential 19th century Italian writer. To date, the project has digitized 8,000 sheets of his printed novels, including his famous work i Vicerè.

They were digitized by researchers at the University of Catania using planetary scanners - a v-shaped cradle for holding books with scanner mounted cameras and lighting situated overhead. The draft notes, manuscripts and typescripts were saved as high-resolution TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) images and are now accessible via the web or even an iPhone app.

"During the last years, I have worked both at COMETA and the INFN (National Institute of Nuclear Physics) to design and implement a software platform named gLibrary, that allows us to build and organize digital repositories on grid infrastructures. GLibrary provides easy-to-use web and mobile interfaces to the grid, hiding the complexity of the underlying infrastructure for the creation of cultural heritage repositories and it is the core of the e-Culture Science Gateway," said Calanducci.

I have a dream

Screenshot of a Science Gateway used by the INDICATE researchers.
The INDICATE e-Culture Science Gateway. Image courtesy Antonio Calanducci.

A Science Gateway is a pre-configured set of tools, applications and data integrated into a single portal and accessible via a Graphical User Interface (GUI), through a common web browser. It can be customized to meet the needs of researchers and directly links data, instruments, software and large-scale distributed computing resources for processing and storage in one virtual environment.

Calanducci believes Science Gateways such as the ones developed in the INDICATE project will finally enable non-expert researchers and even the public to easily use the power of distributed computing. His vision is being realized, "thanks to the support of Identity Federations and, in the near future, of social networks, we will finally unleash to the non-expert users, including the 'citizen scientist', the power of e-infrastructures," he said.

"Without Science Gateways, access to the grid is mainly done by IT experts, able to use terminals, command-line based interfaces, coding and scripting. In the era of Science Gateways, almost everyone interested in science can run his or her own experiments and manage large datasets, exploiting the power of distributed computational and storage resources from their browsers." Time will tell if this advance will greatly impact the emergence of upcoming e-infrastructures such as clouds for scientific research. The INDICATE project is due to be completed on the 31st August next year.

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